Preventing Utility Strikes

Utility Workers Discussing Strike AvoidanceNo matter what procedures we put in place eventually we will make contact with a utility. Sometimes in plain sight that little voice inside us says “Aw I can get closer” and then “bam or pow” the next thing you know phones are ringing. In some cases, a locator has been contacted and has marked the site and you have been cleared.

You are ready to go and you grab a bucket full of soil and next thing you know you hear a “pop” or a “hiss.” Where the line was supposed to be, it is not there, and the locate is off by five feet. According to the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), over the last twenty years, utility strikes have resulted in $1.7 billion in damage, 1,906 injuries, and 421 deaths. These are the ones that have been reported. It is unknown how many contacts and repairs have been made.

Facts

  • What states have incurred the most damage incidents? Texas, followed by Georgia, and then Illinois.
  • What lines were contacted the most and incurred the most damage? Telecomm lines followed by natural gas.
  • Which equipment is responsible for the most damage incidents? The backhoe/trencher followed by hand tools.
  • What were the top three damage root causes? Excavation practice unsafe, locates not called in, and locating practices insufficient.

Precautions

So, what can we do to prevent such incidents? Below are best practices we can implement:Practice Proper Excavation Techniques

  • Call in and document your locates. Compare the field locates to your plans and walk down the site. Take the time to review the plans and marks with operators and workers. Refresh marks after weather and every 20 days.
  • Document calls to all Tier 2 utility holders on the 811CO ticket.
  • Don’t assume that a line is “Dead” if it was unmarked. Have your plan sheet with you.
  • Do not rely 100% on Ground Penetrating Devices (GPR) or Electromagnetic Locator (EML), look for signs of utilities above ground and compare to the marks.
  • Expose the line so you know the route and depth by hand digging and potholing.
  • Consider exposing as much of the utility as possible across your trench by means of HydroVac excavation
  • Utilize an operator with a good touch and feel when it comes to utilities and conscious of the hazards above and below ground.
  • Utilize a focused and field trained Spotter who will “STOP WORK” when things don’t look right.
  • Communicate what you found. If you find something, report what you have found to others and the GC.

Let’s be honest, due to the business that we are in, contact with utilities is inevitable. We all need to make sure we are doing the things that we can control and following company procedure as a means of performing our due diligence.

Not just some of the time, but all of the time and if you are not sure, contact your supervisor or health and safety.

Never dig without an active 811CO ticket. Respect underground utilities with an 18-inch buffer. Hand dig to expose the utility in your trench.

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