Recently, AGC of America conducted an 811 underground utility safety and damage prevention process survey of heavy water/ wastewater, highway/bridge, telecom, gas transmission and distribution, and energy infrastructure contractors. The purpose of the survey is to provide an accurate accounting of the professional excavator/construction industry’s story in the 811 process and to counter erroneous conclusions found in other resources.
There are many surveys and data repositories that claim to tell the professional excavator/construction industry’s story in the 811 process. Many of the conclusions in those sources are heavily influenced by facility owner/operators, their locators and other process stakeholders. In addition, they include data on non-professional excavators, such as homeowners and landscapers, with professional excavators’ data when compiling statistics, skewing the results. These sources point to excavators as the weakest link in the process and conclude it is excavator failure that must be addressed.
Many of these sources are being referenced by the USDOT, OSHA, states’ public utility commissions and enforcement programs as an accurate representation of the construction industry’s competence in the 811 process. Decisions are being made using these sources affecting the professional excavator’s part in the process sometimes based on questionable data.
The 811 process involves multiple stakeholders, each with grave responsibilities they must execute properly for the overall process to work. Owner/ Operators (O/O’s) must be members of their local 811 center, have up-todate maps of the facility locations and competent technicians locating and marking their facilities accurately. One Call centers are the communication hub for the process and must reliably take locate requests in detail and pass them on to O/O’s to act on. And finally, the excavator must have a program in place to communicate with other stakeholders and deal with existing facilities on the jobsite. Stakeholders not executing their respective responsibilities in the process invite danger, compromise public and workforce safety and threaten the integrity of vital facilities.
Over the past two years, there have been widely reported breakdowns in the 811 process across the nation due to facility owner/operators’ failure to respond to tens of thousands of locate requests required by law. As examples, several media reports show the breakdowns include 78,000 late or no-show responses in Minnesota, 30,000 in Arizona, and 20,000 in Michigan. A major facility owner/operator agreed to pay $65 million to settle claims that they falsified records and misrepresented response time to excavators’ requests to locate and mark gas lines.
The survey results make it clear, there is room for improvement by all stakeholders, not just excavators. All stakeholders, particularly facility owner/operators, must be held accountable for failing to execute their responsibilities in the process. Often, these failures are the root cause of damages that occur during excavation activities.
Key findings of the survey show:
• 99% of professional excavators are familiar with their local 811 program/ requirements
• 73% of respondents found weaknesses in the 811 process
• Top 3 weakest elements in the 811 process:
o 78% of respondents found accurate locating as the weakest element
o 56% found owner/operator response time as the weakest element
o 52% found wait time for locate request to clear as the weakest element
• 98% of respondents found excavators/the construction industry should have vested representation on 811 center boards of directors
• 43% found abandoned facilities are seldom marked and treated as live lines
• 53% of respondents found unmarked/mismarked facilities as the most frequent cause of damages and near-miss events
• 66% of respondents have received a claim or invoice from a facility owner/ operator for a damage to an existing facility they were not responsible for
• 43% of respondents include Common Ground Alliance Best Practices in their safety program
• 57% of respondents include AGC’s Elements of an Effective Underground Excavation Safety and Damage Prevention Program
We hope the results of the survey will help professional excavators tell their story as they work to ensure workforce and public safety, protect vital facilities, engage in the 811 process and work to better states’ 811 programs, laws and regulations.