New, three-minute video focuses on excavation Safety
There are 35 million miles of underground utilities. One wrong move
This quick video outlines steps contractors should take before they
|to find ways you can support contractors to dig safely and protect their employees, projects,
job sites, and bottom line.
Underground utility damage: prevention and claim cost control
If your company performs work involving any type of excavation operations, you may be at risk of contacting underground utilities. Because you need to dig in the ground to do your job, how can you prevent the possibility of damaging any nearby utilities? And if you happen to make contact with and damage a utility, how do you reduce the costs associated with the claim that is certain to result?
Even before you put a shovel in the ground, the first step is to call your local “One-Call” number, or 811, to begin the process of locating any utilities. Excavators need to be familiar with their local laws regarding advanced notice, tolerance zones, ticket life, utility response requirements and follow up for those utility owners who fail to respond since the laws may vary by state. You may benefit from locating existing facilities during the planning and design stages of a project. This early indication of potential conflicts may assist in developing or changing a project to limit those areas of conflict.
Using “811” or the “One-Call” number will provide documentation of the request for location of underground utilities, as well as the date of that request. The excavator should stake or mark out the proposed area of excavation to help define the exact location of the dig for the utility representatives. Once the location has been established and the utilities have been marked according to the law, contractor’s site personnel should document the markings and the proposed area of excavation. An effective way to document your proposed excavation and the markings is through photos or videos. The advent of digital cameras makes it easier and less expensive to take multiple photos of every project. Video documentation also offers an opportunity for commentary along with the video. When the job is completed, if there is no need for the evidence of mark outs, you can simply delete those photos and/or video footage.
At this point a Pre-Dig Assessment should be conducted to identify potential unmarked utilities. Evidence of unmarked utilities could include fire hydrants, manhole covers, gas or water meters, transformers, telecommunications boxes, illuminated signs, etc. A checklist can be helpful to document that you conducted an assessment to identify unmarked utilities prior to starting excavation. Don’t forget to verify and document the location of overhead utilities as well. Remember, private lines and service lines may not be marked so you will also need to verify the existence and location of these lines. If you will be excavating the area of the markings, take care to use offsets so that the marks are maintained according to the local regulations or you will need to contact “811” or the “One-Call” number for new mark outs, which can be costly and time consuming while waiting for another response from the utilities.
After you have performed your assessment and made sure all identified utility locations are properly marked, the next step is to verify the location of those utilities. Physical verification helps establish that those utilities are, in fact, where they should be located. Utilities are marked for location, but not for the depth at which they have been installed. You should never assume that a gas line, for example, will be installed at 36 inches deep because there may be instances when it could be only 8 inches deep or less. Potholing (spot air or hydro vacuuming or hand digging) should be conducted anytime the proposed excavation is within the tolerance zone of the marked utility or the marked utility will be intersected. Intervals for potholing may be varied depending on the type of utility and the surrounding geography, but typically every 50 or 100 feet. Here again, document any inconsistencies. And if a utility cannot be located, you will need to contact the utility owner to assist in locating it. Don’t forget to protect any exposed utilities to prevent damage from falling materials and provide bracing, as needed.
Now you are finally ready to begin your work. Unfortunately, even when excavators follow all the regulations and best practices there may be a situation in which a utility is contacted, resulting in damage. The extent of the damage will dictate the immediate response from your on-site personnel. In every case, however, you must contact the owner of the damaged utility. In emergency situations, evacuate the area and call 911. Do not attempt to repair the damaged utility and do not backfill over it. Never cover up damage. Even a slight nick in a covering may result in a failure sometime later. Wait for the utility company to repair the damage and confirm that it is safe for you to backfill.
The damage is done, but there are steps that can be taken to reduce the costs associated with the resulting claim. Once you have determined all employees are accounted for and the immediate danger has passed, begin documenting the scene. If safe to do so, take pictures of the location of the damaged utility in comparison to the location of the mark. Multiple photographs from various angles capturing points of reference, measurements and extent of damage may prove to be invaluable documentation for defending your company when a claim is presented – often more than six months later. Identify any other contractors that were involved, secure any equipment or materials and begin your investigation by collecting the facts. The use of a Utility Damage Report or other specific accident reporting form can assist in the collection of data needed for investigating the causes of the accident. At minimum, document the following:
- All parties involved on the project at the time of the accident
- Witnesses – identify and get contact information
- One-Call System ticket numbers
- Type of utility line struck
- If you are on site when the utility company responds (and you should be):
- Number of utility trucks
- Number of utility company employees
- Number of repair hours
- Conversations with utility representatives, contractors and emergency responders
As soon as possible, contact your insurance agent and insurance company claim department. The claim staff will need the information you collected (i.e. damage report) to verify the type of utility, time of day, equipment involved and other potentially responsible parties. They may also ask you for more detailed information to better determine the best course for handling the claim. The claim representative will likely need to speak directly with site management and the operator of the equipment involved in the accident. Again, it cannot be stressed enough how important photographs and video footage can be to help defend an excavator involved in damaging a mis-marked or unmarked utility.