I showed up on a jobsite a couple weeks ago to do a private locate for one of my favorite customers. “Before we get started,” he said. “I have to speak to the complaints department.” He was cordial about it but wanted me to know that I had missed a fiber on a recent job I’d done for him. A heads-up foreman had spotted it inside a shared conduit, gotten curious, and kept at the riddle until he got it solved.
The line that was missed provided a communications tether between two medical buildings on neighboring lots whose signage and layout gave no indication that they might share an owner. To add further confusion, the fiber didn’t have a dedicated conduit on either building, but rather shared space with the irrigation control wiring and the communications facilities.
I’d actually induced a signal on the conduit, swept for results and found tones on both the irrigation (which I marked) and the communication (which I followed to a pedestal outside of the project area). The fiber that was missed followed the communications line away from the first building (and might well have been installed concurrently), but at some point, swept back into the project area on its way to the neighboring building.
The contractor was patient and experienced, so he understood how the private fiber might have been missed. He wasn’t angry but wanted to share how his team had managed to find a facility I hadn’t. I listened patiently, apologized for having overlooked it, and thanked him for sharing the information with me.
Here’s the thing. If he had hit it, the conversation might not have been so friendly. It would probably have been focused on whether or not I was willing to absorb, or at least share, the cost of the damage since he had paid for a private locate and the missed line was private. In fact, the contractor mentioned, only half-jokingly, how it was a good thing I have a disclaimer on my work order about the potential for unmarked facilities.
In my customer’s mind, their heads-up action had saved them from having to pay for a damage and/or having to try to collect from me to pay for it.
Here comes the dead horse. The property owner requested the work. The property owner had also installed the fiber. Now they had requested a new light pole be added to their property without notifying the contractor about the existence of their fiber. They hadn’t taken responsibility for locating it, they hadn’t affixed an external tracer wire, they hadn’t provided any permanent marker or warning sign— they hadn’t even labeled the conduit or the cable. Nothing, nothing, nothing.
So, yes, I missed it. Thankfully, so did the excavator. But absentee facility owners drive the need for my disclaimer. Now who do I talk to in the complaints department?
Christopher Koch is a training consultant and President of ZoneOne Locating. He is past president of Nulca and worked on both the 2009 and 2015 revisions to the Nulca Professional Competency Standard. He can be reached by email at Christopherkoch@live.com or on Twitter @kochauthor.
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