Global Perspective – Stake of Play: The UK’s Safe Digging Industry

LINESEARCHBEFOREUDIG (LSBUD) provides the location of underground pipes and cables across the UK, helping to protect such infrastructure from accidental third-party damage and keep workers safe. Members benefit from the “safety of the herd” effect – the more asset owners who share their information through LSBUD, the more inquiries every utility company receives.

The Geospatial Commission

The UK government’s Geospatial Commission launched its National Underground Asset Register (NUAR) pilot trials in 2019. It has been positioned to make gathering asset data for a work site easier to improve safety and drive efficiencies, a worthy cause, and one LSBUD has been addressing for decades. The problem is that the Commission has distorted the narrative when it comes to the safe digging industry, unfairly inferring it to be a disjointed, uncollaborative community.

Rather than build on existing success stories or make a real difference by improving the quality of asset data held by organizations, the Commission is aiming to recreate a community that is already established through LSBUD. More than 90 organizations share location data collaboratively with LSBUD (over one million km of networks) and just last year, over 130,000 users contributed to over three million searches.

Search Before You Dig

With four million “digging projects” every year across the UK, we know over 71 percent of excavations are preceded by an LSBUD search. The safe digging industry is performing well, and things continue to improve. The industry is far from broken as the Geospatial Commission would like people to believe.

Asset Strikes

Reporting of damages does need major focus. Without regulation it is difficult to know exactly how many strikes are incurred each year, what caused them, or how much they cost.

We can make a pretty good prediction on what the UK’s asset strike rate is. It is often said that the UK receives around 60,000 strikes each year. I don’t believe this is accurate, but even if it is, what does that mean? Based on the number of LSBUD search inquiries made annually, you get the following strike/inquiry ratios:

10,000 strikes – 0.36 percent strike rate (over 99 percent of excavations take place without incident)

50,000 strikes – 1.79 percent strike rate (over 98 percent of excavations take place without incident)

100,000 strikes – 3.57 percent strike rate (over 96 percent of excavations take place without incident)

Clearly, the Geospatial Commission’s message is very misleading when it says that the entire safe digging industry is broken. To justify spending for its NUAR, it is painting a bad picture of the industry and ignoring platforms that already provide the service it is trying to develop, all at the expense of taxpayer’s money.

The Safe Digging Industry is Performing Well

What needs to happen is education, education, education. It is a simple concept but difficult to achieve. Rather than vast sums of money being allocated to the NUAR, the safe digging industry will benefit more from sustained efforts to raise awareness among all asset providers on the benefits of sharing the location of their networks. Plus, it is critical to keep reminding people how vital it is to search before you dig.

LSBUD’s free, collaborative portal is proven to work and asset-owning members are very happy with the service. The only way it can get better is by continuing to increase people’s knowledge of best practice when it comes to gathering all underground infrastructure information through one platform.

Richard Broome, Managing Director at LSBUD, the UK’s leading online safe digging search resource. Learn more about LSBUD at lsbud.co.uk.

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