Excavation is a delicate process. Despite the physical work and heavy machinery involved, digging into the ground requires strategic planning and careful calculation. Whether you’re using vacuum excavation, auger boring equipment, or moleing, professionals need to be especially mindful of underground utility lines. Otherwise the consequences could be disastrous.
Safety precautions are a must on a job site before, during, and even at the conclusion of a particular assignment. But one of the most critical steps occurs before any digging even begins. Calling 811 is key to a safe, successful job. Excavators are legally bound to use this national service, which connects contractors to local utility companies.
To understand the process and importance of 811, let’s put it into context.
Don’t dig blind
Obviously, digging and excavation is a challenge due to the unseen lines beneath the surface. Excavators don’t want to hit an electric or gas line as it would interrupt public service and potentially spell disaster for workers on the site. To avoid this, call 811.
For the uninitiated, the process is as simple as it sounds. Contractors and private homeowners call the number (which was officially established by the FCC in 2005) from anywhere in the country a few days before digging. From there, they’re routed to a local One Call Center. Contractors then provide the operator with the location of the job, and what kind of equipment will be used. Within a couple days, representatives from utility companies will go to the site and visibly mark the lines.
In many cases, utility companies will mark the location of underground lines with flags, and contractors or property owners can start to plan their dig accordingly. However, while identifying the areas is helpful, additional steps should be taken as well to ensure accuracy.
Contractors should always use a reliable underground wire locator to make their digging more precise. The best tools will reduce noise and self-adapt between direct connection cables and clamp connections depending on which accessory is plugged in to the transmitter. To ensure a more exact locate on water and gas mains, for example, good utility locators should have multiple frequencies for different locating situations. Some tools even feature a GPS mapping function, which can dramatically increase efficiency.
Failing to call 811 can have a range of negative effects. If contractors hit a line while digging, it can mean interrupting facility service, such as fiber optic cables and 911 lines, a loss of productivity, unforeseen job expenses and even a threat to public safety. Of course, the worst-case scenarios of digging blind can include physical harm and even death. Ruptured electrical lines mean endangering the crew and local community. Meanwhile, a punctured gas main may result in a deadly explosion.
But protection goes beyond just physical safety. Calling 811 helps to safeguard brand equity. If negative, headline-making news happens on a job site, it can mean costly damage to the excavation company’s reputation. Not to mention it becomes a target for potential lawsuits.
To promote safety on the job site, contractors should always call 811.