Safe Digging?

What is Safe Digging? We have all heard the phrase “safe digging” from excavators, utility companies, and regulators, but do we really understand and work toward this goal? With over 439,000 damages to underground facilities in 2017 in the United States alone, we obviously don’t understand what safe digging is.

Every company has measures to lean toward a safe digging goal. The first step is to plan the proposed work. Site and scope of work reviews are key to project planning. During this period, the project planner should white-line or create a picture of the proposed excavation area. Then the planner should contact 811 or the local One Call center and request a design/ survey ticket to begin the initial notifications to all utility companies.

The design ticket will allow all parties to address any encroachment and safety issues. While utility companies are not required to mark or flag their lines for a design ticket, they will inform the designer as to the location of their lines. Excavators should understand that utility companies have protocols to protect their assets from damage. These protocols may include potholing or daylighting the asset, enforcement of tolerance zones for excavation, and clearances for crossings and protective barriers to prevent future damages. All of these and other issues can easily be resolved in the design review phase.

A design ticket does not actually cover any excavation, however. A normal One Call ticket must be placed prior to excavation. The excavator must notify 811 again; this time to request markings of all affected utilities. The excavator should ensure that the scope of the work is easy to identify by the locators. This is done by white-lining again and providing detailed driving directions in the ticket. GPS coordinates or the site address are also very helpful to locators.

The One Call ticket will list all utilities that were notified of this excavation. The excavator should ensure that he or she receives a response from every utility listed. The responses can come via email, phone call, or site markings. Utility companies may have their own requests of the excavator and may detail those requests in the email or phone call response. Please address these requests accordingly as the utility company representative is only trying to protect the public, which includes you, by protecting their asset. Your failure to address those concerns and work with the utility company could be detrimental to your excavation and crew. If you have concerns over excavating near underground utilities, if possible, request a company representative to be onsite during the excavation. If you don’t receive a response from every utility company listed on your ticket, there is a real danger that one or more lines were not marked or located. Follow your state’s laws for reporting this to the One Call center. In most states, this means calling 811 again to request a “no response” or “2nd Notice” ticket.

All parties should document that the utilities were marked in accordance with state laws by taking pictures, creating maps, or drawing sketches of the site and utility locations. Apps that are available for smart phones or tablets are great for documenting these markings. The apps can take a picture and document date, time, and location – either by address or GPS coordinates – and even allow the user to add notes. Examples of these apps are: Solocator, Dioptra, Theodolite, Context Camera and many others.

Finally, the day to dig arrives. Review your site again to ensure all markings are still in place. Inspect your equipment to make sure you have the proper excavation tools. Rock bars, rock picks, shovels, and safe-digging buckets for track hoes or back hoes are all key to preventing damages. Consider the following questions:

• Are the utility company representatives on site or their request being met?
• Do you have cell phone signal in case of emergency and do you know the address or location of the excavation?
• Can you provide the 911 call center with directions to get on site?
• Do you have first aid kits and fire extinguishers?
• Do you have a safe digging plan?

WOW you think, all of this to perform a simple excavation? The answer is YES, this is the start of SAFE DIGGING!

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