Location Specific & Automated Messaging Addresses Unsafe Excavation Practices

Utilities are implementing technologies used in other industries to improve situational and location awareness for contractors working around underground utilities.

Early in my introduction to the damage prevention industry in North America, I was taught that the marks on the ground were the hieroglyphics used by utilities to communicate with excavators. Of course, the very basis for the damage prevention industry is communication.  Contractors are communicating with a local 811 or One Call service, which in turn notifies the utilities. This results in a mark out in the field. Generally, this process takes anywhere from a few days to a week to complete. During this time, there is often little to no communication between the utility and the excavator.

So, in many cases, the first time an excavator is aware of the type and nature of the facility at their work site is when the paint is already on the ground, which may be too late! This is where a timely and targeted notice to the excavator could significantly improve safety and reduce damages.

Do we really need more messages in the damage prevention process?
Let’s face it, we are all bombarded with emails from seemingly every vendor on earth trying to sell us a lifestyle change that will make us more relaxed or give us the health and wellbeing we have always aspired to. But damage prevention is all about ensuring excavators go home, intact, to their families each night and that the lights are kept on in the house, right?

How would you respond to an email that simply explained that the location you and your crew were about to work at was riddled with dangerous or other critical infrastructure? If the communication also included some useful instructions to follow prior to the site being marked out and who to contact with questions, do you think this would be an email that ended up in the junk folder? I find it hard to believe that professional excavators would ignore this, especially when it’s the safety of their people at risk.

Clear and Targeted Messaging Helps Change Behavior
We know from the latest CGA DIRT Report that 56% of all damages are classified as “Excavation Practices not Sufficient.” Arguably, this is attributable to a lack of care from the excavator, time pressures to complete the work quickly or a lack of appreciation for the nature of the facilities.

Damage prevention managers within utilities spend their careers working closely with the excavation community explaining the dangers of digging near their specific facility. Having this effort supported by targeted, clear and instant  messaging in response to each ticket provides an opportunity to reinforce the
safety measures required for the work, and as a result prevents damages. It’s a lot like how the clever marketing businesses work out the placement of an  advertisement while you are searching the web. The more relevant the content, the more likely you are to click!

How is this possible?
There are many utilities in North America already adopting this approach through services similar to TicketAccess™. Whatever the technical solution, it must go beyond the traditional 811 process by comparing the ticket location, the activities and any other available information to utility GIS records. From this, a series of results can be determined, including:

• What part of the infrastructure is at risk?
• Is the activity being undertaken going to increase or decrease the risks?
• What specific instructions can be provided to assist?
• Does the excavator need a permit before commencing work?

Once each scenario has been determined from a ticket, a targeted response can be automatically built and dispatched.


Nick Holly is a global damage prevention industry veteran from PelicanCorp One Call Inc. He can be reached at nick.holly@pelicancorp.com.

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