Dig Safely New York Finds Innovative Ways to Promote Safety Education

DATING BACK to its founding in 1969, Dig Safely New York has continually explored ways to educate not only professionals in the contractor and excavation fields, but also the general public/homeowners about the importance of using the 811 process before starting their digging projects. The organization’s efforts, as well as strong, collaborative relationships with its members, have paid dividends and increased safety throughout its 55 counties in upstate New York, with more than 570,000 location requests submitted in 2020 despite the complications posed by the Coronavirus pandemic.

With robust educational offerings available online and five field representatives located in separate regions of the upstate area, great strides have been made in educating and certifying professional excavators. Bringing the message of notifying 811 to homeowners before they embark on projects as routine as planting a tree or digging fence post holes has been a bigger challenge and required more “outsidethe- box” approaches.

Enter Dig Safely New York’s annual Nursery Program, designed to capture the attention of homeowners during the busy spring season as they plan their garden and landscaping projects. Initiated in 2015, the Nursery Program brings awareness of the 811 system and safe digging practices to customers visiting approximately 100 nurseries throughout the state. Each garden center is provided a box of seed packets bearing the Dig Safely New York logo to give to customers. Along with the seed packets, each garden center also receives counter mats and t-shirts. The counter mats were designed as a friendly reminder for customers standing at the checkout counter to notify 811 before they dig. The t-shirts are for employees to wear to help further Dig Safely New York’s message of contacting 811 before digging.

“One of the most important things we can do to fulfill our mission of promoting community safety through education is reaching out to homeowners and DIYers,” said Kevin Hopper, Executive Director of Dig Safely New York. “This is just one of the many innovative approaches we use, in collaboration with our members, to spread the message that individuals should use the 811 system before taking on even the most routine projects.”

Although there is no cost involved for participating nurseries, there is still an expense associated with mailing the packages. Like most businesses and organizations in 2020, Dig Safely New York’s budget was impacted by the consequences of COVID-19. To offset costs, Dig Safely New York approached its partner utility members and asked them to sponsor the shipping boxes. The nurseries were divided up by region and the utility companies could select how many boxes they wanted to sponsor in their area. Inside the box, along with the seed packets, counter mats, and t-shirts, was a flier that informed the nurseries of the sponsoring utility member involved in the collaborative effort.

As one utility partner indicated… “NYSEG is proud to partner with Dig Safely New York to educate our customers and the greater community about the importance of calling 811,” said Anna Caron, Damage Prevention Supervisor at NYSEG and RG&E. “This partnership is critical to fulfilling our commitment to fostering natural gas safety in the communities we serve and ensuring our customers stay safe.“

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