Global Perspective – Digging Up Britain

LineSearch BeforeUDig (LSBUD) is the UK’s leading online safe digging service, producing the annual Digging up Britain report which examines the state of the digging industry in the UK. This year’s edition reveals plenty of interesting insights, particularly into the “digging boom’’ taking place.

Search Before You Dig

In 2020, more than three million enquiries were made for projects involving excavation; a search passed through the LSBUD service every 10 seconds. This is a nine percent increase on 2019, and 73 percent up from just four years ago. Clearly, this shows a strong improvement amongst those responsible for digging works with an increased awareness of the benefits that searching brings.

The Digging Boom

Given the impact of COVID-19 on every aspect of life in 2020, with lockdowns affecting the ability to do work during certain periods, it is no surprise to see that search enquiries for future projects were significantly up – by 35 percent. This highlights that many people were forced into preparation mode, thinking about where home improvements could be made and planning for the digging boom that we’re now seeing, but more on this later.

This effect was seen across the industry with the promoters of large scale infrastructure projects seemingly waiting to pounce and get to work once Government restrictions were eased.

Industry and Safe Digging

As has been the case over the last few years, the majority of digging work is being done on behalf of the telecom sector, closely followed by the water industry. Interestingly, both saw their overall share of total searches increase in 2020 after a few years in decline, collectively making up 63 percent of all searches.

The other key digging trend to note is that the number of farmers searching via LSBUD increased by 63 percent. This reflects both the amount of farm diversification taking place and the awareness of safe digging practices growing rapidly amongst this audience.

Against the backdrop of all this digging activity, the good news is that the UK’s underground pipes and cables have never been more visible, with more than 100 asset owners now registered on LSBUD.

The water sector remains most vulnerable to asset strikes. Just 15 percent of asset owners from the water industry share their information via the LSBUD portal, which makes for bleak reading compared to the gas and electricity sectors which each boast over 90 percent representation on the portal.

Is the UK Prepared for the Digging Boom?

LSBUD’s service provides the location of underground pipes and cables across the UK, helping to protect infrastructure from accidental third-party damage and helping keep workers safe. Members (asset owners who provide their network information through the service) benefit from the “safety of the herd” effect – the more asset owners who share their information through LSBUD, the more users use the service. This means each member receives more enquiries near their network, increasing third-party awareness of how to work safely near their networks.

The number of searches running through LSBUD’s service gives us confidence that industry is very much getting the message about the importance of safe digging. Indeed, for the majority, performing a search for pipes and cables is now default before digging. But it remains the case that 25 percent of Brits do not search before digging.

Given that our research finds that homeowners are taking on 126,246 digging projects this year, such as extensions, renovations, and landscape gardening, this means that 31,562 projects are happening “blind.” In other words, 86 new projects are starting every day where people are simply digging and hoping. The worry is that thousands of Brits are at risk of cutting off power to their neighborhood, being unable to work due to broadband outages or being seriously injured.

This needs to change and we’re on a mission to get not just industry but everybody searching before digging.

Now Isn’t the Time for Complacency

As our research shows, the UK’s underground infrastructure, and those working near it, are better protected than ever. This is reason to celebrate but with a ramping up of excavation activity, now is not the time to get complacent.

This is why we’d like the remaining asset owners to subscribe to the LSBUD portal and start sharing their information more readily. It’s only by collaborating with the other utility companies to give all those digging a full picture of what lies beneath the ground, that needless strikes will be minimized and accidents avoided.

It’s also essential that everyone searches for underground pipes and cables before digging to avoid the myriad of consequences that can come with striking such assets. The movement we have seen is very positive, but we can still be better by asset owners following the adage – subscribe, share, and search.

For more information about the state of the UK’s safe digging industry and to read LSBUD’s Digging up Britain report in full, visit lsbud.co.uk/digging-up-britain-report

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