Pre-Excavation Documentation

Once excavation begins, the scene changes forever. For this reason, pre-excavation documentation should be collected. In a court case, good pre-excavation documentation may not guarantee a win, failure to have it could cost you the win.

Call in the Experts

If you are an excavator, begin with making a request to the local One Call Center to have the work area marked. Include precise marking instructions as well as white lining whenever possible. If accurate instructions cannot be provided, a meet should be requested with appropriate personnel so the job site can be walked through with the locators (and facility owner if needed) so further instructions can be given. Once the instructions are provided and agreed to, all parties should sign off on the plan. If something changes that affects this agreement, all parties should be notified so a new plan can be developed.

Tracking locator responses is also extremely important for the excavator. More and more One Call systems now offer online positive response systems which allows the excavator to check on the status of the ticket by each utility’s locator response digitally. It is important to document which parties have been notified as well as when and how they responded. This allows the excavator to know if someone does not respond so additional outreach can be made.

Excavator Documentation

After all facility owners have responded, it is critical that the scene is documented prior to any excavation work. Taking pictures and video along the path of proposed excavation is a great way to start. All potential conflicts should be captured as well as any other potential problem areas.



Next, the same process should be used along the line of each of the markings followed by quality overview shots of the entire area. A well-drawn diagram of the area can also be helpful.

The next step is to pothole the utilities. Excavators should document each pothole with data including the depth to the top and bottom of the utility, the size of the utility, material and condition and measurements from fixed objects that are not likely to change. It is always a good idea to capture the potholing process on tape or in photographs. Remember the old adage, if you don’t document it, it didn’t happen.

If discrepancies arise between what is marked and what you find, never assume. Always follow up with the locator or utility to resolve these issues instead of taking the risk.

With this documentation completed, excavation can begin. Documentation should not stop once excavation starts, however. The documentation process is not complete. It is a good idea to periodically take pictures and/ or video while the project proceeds. There is no such thing as too much documentation.

Locator Documentation

For locators, many of the same principles apply. First make sure that you completely understand the marking instructions that you receive. If there are any questions, do not hesitate to call the excavator for clarification. If you still can’t get a good idea of the scope of work, try to arrange a meet onsite. As with the excavator, it is good to walk the site with them and get a clear picture of what they will be doing. Once the instructions are clear, both parties should sign off on it. If something changes on the locator’s side, they should make contact and try to find a solution.

After marking the site, the locator should take pictures and video. The locator should strive to follow the proposed path of excavation as well as showing the path of the marks. Extra shots can be captured at potential points of conflict.

Facility Owner Involvement

Utilities should allow the locators to provide key information to the excavators, when known. This includes the size of the facility and the material that should be encountered. With the growing number of abandoned facilities in the ground, this information can help to prevent damages. If the excavators know that they are looking for a six-inch plastic water line and expose a six-inch cast iron line, they know that they have not found the target line and should continue to look. At a minimum, it should generate a question leading to a call for assistance.

Utility owners also play a part in the pre-excavation arena. One of the biggest impacts they can have is participating in the design phase of projects and providing much needed information both in meetings and during the survey process. Unfortunately, many companies will not allow their locators to mark lines for surveys. They are missing a golden opportunity to prevent damages when this happens.

Communication is key to damage prevention. Everything discussed in this article promotes open and clear dialog between all parties, whether it is with a meet or through paint put down on the ground. By improving communication, we can have a positive impact on damage prevention. However, when things go wrong, quality pre-excavation activities can support your point of view and save the day.

In addition to providing damage prevention and investigation services as owner of Ron Peterson Consulting, Ron has held the position of Executive Director of Nulca since 2009. Ron can be reached at

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