One Call for the Design & Construction Phases. The Importance of Coordination and Communication.

DESIGNERS AND EXCAVATORS initiate the One Call process by placing a ticket through a One Call center. Most One Call centers include a special ticket to address projects that do not include excavation (i.e., a designer’s ticket). Because the planning and design phase precedes excavation activities, coordination of the utilities in a proposed project area can facilitate communication with affected parties much earlier in the damage prevention process.

In the construction industry, several subcontractors often work together on a single project. Therefore, a decision must be made regarding who should start the underground utilities locating process. As allowed by law, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that underground utilities have been appropriately marked. Thus, before they start digging, excavators must verify that a responsible party has already notified the One Call center and that a positive response has been received and verified from all notified utilities.

Design Phase

During the initial planning and design phase for any construction project that requires excavation, understanding the potential conflicts with underground utilities is extremely important. It saves time and money when the project is underway by pointing out any potential conflicts and allowing people to identify these conflicts in their plans, coordinate with the owners for any relocation efforts, and do so well ahead of the actual project implementation. Many states include a design ticket in their One Call process. These tickets have longer response times than a normal excavation request, and, in some cases, they do not require a physical locate by the utility. Utility owners can comply by providing plans and maps illustrating where their facilities are in relation to the area proposed instead of delivering physical locates. In some cases, it is a challenge to educate the planners and designers about the limits to what they receive in response to these requests. They often believe that they should also be granted physical locates, which provide a much more accurate representation than some of the maps that are currently held by utilities. It is understandable for people to find a way to work around a system that is not performing for them as they expected and as legally required. Although it is certainly ideal to have every design receive a horizontal depiction of all present utilities, owners are required to pay for the locates, and they view provision of maps or access to maps as an acceptable replacement when allowed by law. Designers can certainly hire private locators at their own expense if the maps are insufficient. In any event, at the actual point of true excavation, locate marks should be provided and the excavator should visually expose and protect facilities at the depth being excavated.

For surveyors, the situation is completely different if they are driving stakes, pins, or rebar into the ground as part of their survey, because these actions disturb the earth and are therefore considered excavation activities. This can be confusing to the locate community because they may not believe actual excavation is taking place, given that the company is a survey or design company. Thus, it is crucial for locators, excavators, and surveyors to understand the distinct differences between planning and design activities that do not involve actual excavation and those activities described that can result in damage to facilities. It is crucial for all parties to understand what laws require with respect to requesting survey design tickets and the responses that are provided to them. They should refer to the state laws in the area in which they are working to better understand specific requirements.

Construction Phase

Contractors, including general contractors and subcontractors, make the majority of the construction phase requests to One Call centers. As a result, a high degree of damage to underground utilities has resulted from construction activities. This makes perfect sense because other excavators, such as homeowners, only request work infrequently, but professional contractors have daily interactions with the One Call system, as well as with underground infrastructure. For this reason, contractors and subcontractors have a special duty to follow laws and procedures that limit the number of damages and limit the number of requests to only those that involve work during the prescribed ticket life.

Authors Al-Bayati and Panzer provide an overview of the location process that is generally followed across the United States, explaining the role of all stakeholders in the reduction of injuries and damage to underground utility property during construction. Specific topics include:

Subsurface Utility Damage Prevention

• One Call Process

• Evolution of Damage Prevention

• Damage Prevention Acts

• Definition of Key Terms

• Causes and Trends of Damages

• Affected Services per Type of Employer

• No Locate Request

• The Cost of Damages

One Call Centers

• Damage Prevention Acts

• Act Enforcement and Dispute Resolution

• Educational Outreach

• Subsurface Utility Engineering – CI/ASCE 38-02

• Case Study – North Carolina One Call Center (NC 811)

Designers’ and Contractors’ Duties

• Design Phase

• Construction Phase

• Desirable Excavator Actions

• Safe Excavation Process

• Undesirable Excavator Actions

• Homeowner Responsibilities

Utility Owners’ and Locators’ Duties

• Desirable Actions

• Undesirable Actions

• Utility Owners’ Actions – Case Studies

Claim Resolution and Damage Investigation

• Federal Oversight

• Variety of Enforcement Models

• Damage Investigation

Dr. Ahmed Al-Bayati is the founding director of the Construction Safety Resource Center (CSRC) and an assistant professor in the department of Civil and Architectural Engineering at Lawrence Technological University (LTU).

Louis Panzer has served as executive director of NC 811 since 2011. He currently serves on the NC Underground Damage Prevention Review Board and has been active in CGA for 16 years.

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