In the California Subsurface Incident Prevention Committee (SSIP), we had recently been tasked to discuss the role of road builders and their responsibility to obtain a dig ticket.
Road Builders often encounter shallow facilities when working to restore or replace the road surface. Road Contractors will grind the road surface to place a new cap of material over the road base, or in other work they remove the overlying tarmac and replace the entire road base itself in asphalt or concrete. Shallow facilities are often encountered such as irrigation lines, telecommunication facilities, street lighting conduits, landscaping control wiring and traffic sensors.
The arguments made by Road Builders and Road Grinders is that they are “only” going down a few inches, so they do not recognize the requirement to obtain a dig ticket. Since they are only going down a few inches they assume it should not conflict with operator facilities that should have been placed at state-mandated minimum depths. So, from their perspective, the fault and liability lie with the operators for non-compliance of minimum depth rules to protect their facilities.
Operators chimed in to state that they are not responsible for depth changes involving their facilities over time. Conditions like street improvements and erosion will affect the actual depth of their facilities. Further, they point out, excavators who do not have a valid dig ticket are assumed liable for any damages that may arise. So, damages and consequences are not the liability of the operator.
And what of safety?
In Committee we did reach consensus that all excavators are subject to the rules of the California 4216 Safe Excavation law and that there is no exception for road builders. All excavators must obtain a dig ticket before excavation activity, shallow or deep. All other rules of the 4216 also apply including discovery of conflicts and the use of “reasonable care”.
I realized that this situation describes the understanding that “excavation safety is a shared responsibility”. It also describes what a “culture of safety” is to all stakeholders.
How often have we all sat in customer/contractor safety meetings and been admonished by our customers that we (contractors) must have a “culture of safety?” And yet the definition of that “culture” remains undefined by our customers.
A “culture of safety” is when all stakeholders accept that it is their personal and professional responsibility to keep themselves, their fellow employees, their customers and the public safe from the hazards of their work. And that if any stakeholder fails in their roles and responsibilities to themselves and others as defined under the safe excavation rules, “bad” things happen.
“A “CULTURE OF SAFETY” IS WHEN ALL STAKEHOLDERS ACCEPT THAT IT IS THEIR PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITY TO KEEP THEMSELVES, THEIR FELLOW EMPLOYEES, THEIR CUSTOMERS AND THE PUBLIC SAFE FROM THE HAZARDS OF THEIR WORK.”
Why Road Contractors Need to Obtain a Dig Ticket Before Excavation
The reality is that all excavators have the primary responsibility to begin the excavation safety process by first delineating their work area and then obtaining a dig ticket. If they fail to do that then how are operators to know where to protect their facilities by locating and marking? Shallow or deep those facilities cannot be located and marked by the operator to create that awareness without excavator notification. As professionals we can never assume safety but must verify to determine all conflicts with our proposed work.
Despite the arguments by some excavators against obtaining a dig ticket, failing to do so deprives the operator of the opportunity to protect their facilities and so in failing, “bad” things happen.
This is also illustrated by recent DIRT reports. DIRT data indicates that damages caused by excavators that do not have a dig ticket to operator facilities is about 45%. That means that 45% of the damages are caused by excavators who have failed in their responsibility to obtain a dig ticket to notify operators of their intent, and consequently “bad” things happen. And often this 45% of excavators are those who may be aware of the Safe Excavation laws but do not think it applies to them, or assume they are working under the dig ticket of the primary contractor.
That is the reason why even Road Builders and Road Grinders along with all other would-be excavators, have the responsibility to get a dig ticket. It is about damage prevention and, primarily, the safety of the excavator, which brings us full circle to, “Excavation safety is a shared responsibility.”
Steve Woo is Compliance Officer with HCI, Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.