No Borders

Proving that excavation safety and utility damage prevention should have no borders,
Texas811 and New Mexico 811, in conjunction with the West Texas Damage Prevention
Council (a CGA regional partner), recently drew attendees from Texas, New Mexico,
and the Mexican state of Chihuahua to witness a live pipeline rupture & emergency response demonstration in El Paso.

The West Texas Excavation Safety Day followed the typical Damage Prevention Councils
of Texas model in that the event was anchored by a pipeline rupture & emergency response demonstration, also known as a “Mock Line Strike,” in a festival setting with plenty of food, door prizes, and mini safety sessions.  Conducted by Texas Gas Service (TGS) and local emergency response agencies, the demonstration brought utility, pipeline, & emergency response personnel from Ciudad Juarez side-by-side with their American
counterparts to learn about 811, safe excavation practices, and response tactics exercised in the emergency control of natural gas.

The day began with more than 300 excavators assembling on the West Valley Fire Department training grounds to learn valuable information on the proper use of PPE and trench safety requirements from local safety professionals and OSHA personnel; while in another part of the facility, Enertech and regional pipeline operators trained personnel from multiple emergency response agencies on how to recognize and properly respond to pipeline emergencies.

While 811 and utility damage prevention are the driving factors in our excavation safety
days, we feel it’s important to bring excavators & emergency responders together on common ground to address other hazards associated with excavations as well. It’s also critical that excavators learn the proper steps to ensure employee and public safety in the inevitable event of a pipeline rupture. Mock Line Strike demonstrations are a great way to accomplish both objectives.

Transitioning from jobsite safety to damage prevention regulatory requirements,
Texas811 and New Mexico PRC Pipeline Safety Bureau (NMPRC) representatives held a
Q&A session detailing the most common violations as well as similarities and sometimes
significant differences between Texas and New Mexico pipeline safety regulations. According to Sefie Anaya, NMPRC supervisor, a short drive often changes field compliance.

“With just 40 minutes of drive time separating El Paso, Texas and Las Cruces, New Mexico, sometimes it may appear to be a world apart when it comes down
to excavators understanding their obligations to comply with applicable
regulations,” said Anaya. “The crowd really seemed to appreciate
that we were able and willing to answer their important questions on the spot. I
believe we will all agree the best tool out in the field is communication.”

Emergency responders then joined the excavators on the training grounds to witness the
way things are supposed to work on a jobsite with proper planning. A representative from El Paso Seal Rite, a utilities contractor, walked the job detailing the necessary steps to ensure a safe project which included a white-line demonstration. This was followed up with a line locating demonstration by USIC and a vacuum excavation demonstration by Tri-State Electric, with narration describing the challenges associated with each discipline. But in the real world, things don’t always go as planned.

JD Abrams Safety Specialist Jerry Lopez elaborates: “As safety professionals, we tend to
focus on training employees on how to do the work the right way.” Lopez, who also serves as a West Texas DPC Co-chair, continues: “But, it is human nature to learn from your mistakes which is where the Mock Line Strike comes into play. We want to illustrate how things can go really bad if excavators and utility operators don’t identify and address all known and predictable hazards. The pipeline rupture demonstration gets their attention and leaves them with a lasting memory.”

In this scenario, the excavation crew didn’t bother to call 811 and wrongly assumed that
the pipeline markers accurately marked the location of the underground pipeline. When the backhoe struck the buried polyethylene pipeline releasing 50 psi of compressed air, it blew a cloud of dry desert soil high into the air, drifting downwind, which continued for the duration of the demonstration. The crew leader called 911, triggering an emergency response by the West Valley Fire Department who arrived with lights and sirens blaring to demonstrate how to properly secure the incident site and prepare for gas company arrival.

TGS crews then demonstrated their emergency response procedures which includes isolating the gas line upstream and downstream of the leak to keep their personnel outside of the hazard zone. “Even though our personnel are equipped with fire resistant clothing and breathing air, their safety is a high priority on an incident site so we require them to work outside of the hazardous atmosphere whenever possible. If they get hurt while working the leak, they won’t be able to continue working to keep the public safe,” explained TGS Inspector Jose Saenz.

Adding to the realism of the incident, the demonstration included a serious injury requiring medical assistance. While local EMS demonstrated their skills in stabilizing the injured worker, an air ambulance helicopter circled the incident site for several minutes before setting down a few hundred yards from the blowing line.

The final session included a “Lessons Learned” synopsis, final Q&A to address any unanswered questions in regards to the overall event, and door prize drawings with more than $4,000 in cash and merchandise distributed.

The success of the West Texas Excavation Safety Day illustrates that there is a need for enhanced damage prevention outreach in areas where excavators routinely travel across state lines, and even international borders, to work. The West Texas DPC is so much more than just El Paso so we intend to include utility & pipeline operators from across the
border in our outreach activities and building the first ever international damage prevention council. Of course, we’ll have to change the name of the organization
to reflect the bigger picture.

West Texas DPC Co-chair Steve Teran agrees. “I believe it is every person’s responsibility to work in a safe manner and ensure the safety of all on and around the project,” says Teran, who is also the Code Compliance Supervisor at El Paso Water. “One must learn to follow sound, safe work practices for everyone’s benefit. In the spirit of shared responsibility, we will work to support the future projects in the El Paso, Las Cruces, & Juarez region to enhance safety methods and create a higher level of 811 awareness for all.”

Who knows, one day there might be the possibility of 811 expansion across the Texas/Mexico border to include Ciudad Juarez. As a country, Mexico may not be ready for 811, but El Paso and Juarez comprise the largest international border metroplex in the world so it could be as simple as Juarez utilities joining Texas811 to make it a true “no borders” 811 system.
For additional information and assistance in planning a Mock Line Strike and excavation safety day in your area, visit websites and Doug Meeks can be reached at or 512-963-0034. To see a video of the event, click this link



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