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Safe Digging – Get the 411 on 811

Over the past 40 years, much attention has been given to the protection of underground facilities and utilities. This month’s Tailgate focuses on working on or in close proximity to those facilities and utilities.

Prior to Digging
Before digging, a call must be made to your state’s one-call facility. 811 is the national Call Before You Dig phone number designated by the Federal Communications Commission. It was established to eliminate the confusion of multiple numbers because it’s easy to use and remember, and it’s the same for every state. Depending on state law, it takes 48 to 72 hours before your dig ticket is valid to dig on. This gives locators the time necessary to get to your work site, survey for utilities and place marks as needed. It also allows ample time for discussion of the steps you will take when potholing and what precautions you will use to protect exposed utilities while work is being performed in the open excavation area.

Job Briefing
During the briefing at the job site, discuss prudent digging techniques such as hand digging parallel to the marks instead of digging perpendicular. Since hand digging across the locates significantly increases the likelihood of digging into a utility, start at least 12 feet from the mark and dig toward it with your shovel, parallel to the mark.

Pre-Job Checks
While performing pre-job checks, ensure your dig ticket is valid, and that a copy of the ticket is with your work information. Verify that it’s the ticket for your work location by checking the address or cross streets, and verify the lawful start date and time. It’s also a good idea to have the contact information for locators if any questions or concerns arise.

Review Your Marks
Check for completeness and accuracy of locates. Look for previous marks on sidewalks, curbs and roads. Use appropriate maps, work orders and prints prior to the start of construction.

Start of Work
When you start, have a spotter present when using mechanized equipment. Hand dig when working within the tolerance zone of locates or equipment. Powered equipment must not be used in the tolerance zone until you have verified that the mark is accurate and appropriate precautions have been taken to protect the facility. Remember, if you encounter anything unexpected while excavating, stop and seek help. Respect all one-call marks and never make assumptions. A dig ticket is not a license to dig. Always refer to your local one-call laws to ensure compliance.

Marked Utilities
If potholing, once you have found the marked utilities, ensure potholes expose the complete utility. For open excavations, make sure you protect exposed facilities by using plywood, split duct or any other suitable physical barrier that will provide the needed protection.

Private Facilities
For privately owned facilities such as sewer laterals, site lighting and geothermal systems are examples of hidden dangers since they are often not included on the scope of locates provided by the one-call system. These facilities merit reasonable and prudent measures to avoid damage.

Best Practices for Private Facilities
• Some municipalities make prints available that show locations of sanitary laterals. It’s worth the effort to make those contacts when preplanning a job.
• Walk the job. Look for manhole lids, vaults and valve boxes.
• Try to determine what the facility is and get a running line.
• Look for external sewer cleanouts.
• Know your risk if your work includes directional boring. When running deeper than 36 inches, pulling large products and reamers adds additional risk.
• Make contact with the customers whenever possible. Explain your scope of work and the hazards involving laterals. Work with the customer to facilitate solutions when concerns arise.
• When you’re near rental properties and large multiunit dwellings, seek out the property manager and maintenance person for assistance in locating lines.
• Escalate conflicts to your supervisor or project manager.
• Utilize locating equipment when necessary to avoid damages.

A Facility Was Damaged – Now What?
• Secure the area, make sure everyone is OK and call emergency services if needed.
• Notify your company per procedure. Be ready to supply a basic report including who, what, where and when.
• Take photos if it’s safe to do so. Start a sketch and/or timeline.
• Document the names of visitors who respond to the job site as this will help keep names of potential witnesses in the incident file.
• Based on the incident, complete appropriate fact-finding for apparent causes and lessons learned – the whys and hows.
• Make sure your loss control representative or a designee is involved, as follow-up calls and meetings will occur with those utility/facility owners days and weeks after the initial incident.

About the Authors: John Boyle is vice president of safety and quality for INTREN, an electric, gas and telecommunication construction company based in Union, Ill. Boyle has more than 28 years of experience, and has worked in nuclear and wind power generation and electric and gas distribution.

Kurt Kollwelter is a loss control professional for INTREN, where he specializes in damage investigation and claims management. In 2011 Kollwelter was recognized by the National Safety Council as a Rising Star of Safety.

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