All construction workers and excavating contractors should be briefed on rules and safety regulations before an excavation job begins. There are a few best practices that you can put into play to best avoid utility line strikes during excavation:

1. Call 811

811 is a number that you dial to have lines marked. It is a completely free service that you can take advantage of to prevent a damage incident to your underground utility lines. Damage to an underground line can affect more than just you.

You should have this done before the job even begins, that way there aren’t any questions about where they are located. This is a necessary step in the pre-task planning process to make sure everyone who is going to be affected by this utility line work is notified. Once this process is completed, it is then safe to begin the work.

2. Know the Tolerance Zone

The tolerance zone is where you are not to dig with machinery. That includes not using any pointed tools that can hard the utility lines. Depending on the state you are working in, the tolerance zones are going to vary.

It is going to be around 18” on either side of the marked zones. There are some states that have a larger width that you will have to abide by. In these tolerance zones, only hand digging and blunt-edged excavation are allowed.

3. Stop Excavation

If you have come across an area that has utility lines and they are not marked, you are to stop excavation work. At this point, you have to call 811 and have them come back out. If you have an area that is marked to have utilities and they are not able to be found when you are digging, you need to dial 811.

4. Facilities and Private Property

When you are working in these types of areas, dialing 811 is not necessary. These areas require you to use a different strategy. There are some methods that you can use to detect where these underground utility lines are located, such as:

  • Ground-penetrating radar
  • Private locators
  • As-built drawings
  • Professionals or individuals with experience

How to Safely Hand Dig Around Underground Utility Lines

When performing excavation work and you come across a marked utility line, you must use another method other than heavy equipment. Some pointers on how to properly hand dig in these areas are:

  • Use a rounded or blunt-edged shovel – This will help to prevent any damage being done to the utility lines.
  • Do not start digging directly over the marked area – You want to start digging off to the side of the marked area. That way you can locate the utility line without damaging it.
  • Always work cautiously – It is important to always be cautious and careful when you are working around these underground lines. Pay close attention to make sure you do not cause any damage to them.
  • Remove soil carefully – You don’t want to pry any soil against a line. Make sure to remove it carefully and not forcefully.

What to do if You Hit an Underground Utility Line

It can be a scary moment when you realize that you have an underground line. Try to stay calm and take the necessary steps to ensure safety for you and anyone in the area. Here are a few safety tips to remember if you are ever in this situation:

1. Clear the Area

Don’t stay in the area and try to assess the problem. The first thing that you should do if you hit an underground line is to clear the entire area. All crew members need to move out of the way. You can assess the situations from afar to be safe.

2. Be Aware of Everything

You can naturally notice if a fire sparks or if there are any electrical issues. Be mindful of the smells that occur as well. Natural gas has a distinct smell that all construction workers should know.

If you smell natural gas, call 911 immediately. This is a very dangerous situation for you, your crew, and surrounding areas as well. No one for any reason should cause any sparks of any kind. Make sure the phone call is made from a far enough distance as well.

3. Call the Utility Company

After you have assessed all the immediate dangers, your next step should be calling the utility company responsible for the area. They need to know what happened and be informed about what all occurred. Information about what to do and how to help the situation can be given by them as well.

Until next time….Work Safe & Be Safe!

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