Dig safely and prevent utility dig-ins
Utility contacts can be costly—and deadly. Underground utility contacts cost utility owners and contractors millions of dollars in repair and service disruption costs every year. Not only that, workers who contact buried utilities put themselves and the public at risk of injury or death. It’s your responsibility to dig safely to protect yourself, your crew and the public.
Notify 811 before you dig or move earth in any way. This free service will arrange for Utility Name and other 811 member utilities to locate and mark their underground lines so you can dig a safe distance away from them.
Dial 811 or use the online ticket-entry system, then wait your state’s required time for facility owners to mark their lines before you dig:
- State Name: Wait two full business days, excluding weekends and legal holidays.
- State Name: Beginning at 7 a.m. on the next business day, wait 48 hours excluding weekends and legal holidays.
Pre-mark your proposed excavation area with white paint, flags, and/or stakes before you contact 811.
Wait for utilities to be marked before digging. Once utilities are marked, respect the marks, hand expose to verify location and dig with care.
Notify 811 well ahead of digging, so underground utilities can be marked and you can work safely.
Not all utilities are members of 811. You are responsible for notifying non-member utilities.
Utility locator marks protect you. Make sure you and your crew know how to read utility locator markings and know the American Public Works Association (APWA) uniform color code for marking underground utilities. Color code charts are usually available from Miss Utility.
Locator flags are placed within paint marks. If you find flags outside the borders of locator markings, someone may have tampered with them. Contact 811.
|APWA Color Code for Locator Marks|
|Red||Electric power lines|
|Pink||Temporary survey markings|
|Yellow||Gas, oil or steam|
|Green||Sewers and drain lines|
|Orange||Communication lines, cables or conduit|
|Purple||Reclaimed water, irrigation and slurry lines|
Utility locator marks protect you from injury and prevent damage to underground utilities. Make sure you and your crew understand them.
You might arrive at a job site and find no markers, even AFTER utility locating has been completed. If so, do not assume that the area is clear of utility lines. Look for aboveground signs of unmarked utilities such as gas or electric meters, pipeline markers, valves, etc. Also check for signs of something buried after the locate was completed, such as a fresh trench. If you find unmarked facilities, stop digging and notify 811.
Per state law, do not use mechanized digging equipment within the “tolerance zone. This safety area spans XX inches for State Name, and XX inches for State Name, on either side of the extremities of a marked underground utility line.
The width of the tolerance zone varies from state to state, and it is the excavator’s responsibility to know what it is.
Check utility depth for yourself.
Before you can safely cross or work close to an underground utility, you must first verify its depth. Flags and locator marks tell you the direction the utility is running, but not how deeply it is buried. The only way to be sure of utility depth is to carefully expose it and see for yourself.
Proper hand-digging tools and techniques protect you and prevent utility line damage:
- Use a blunt-nosed shovel to loosen the soil, and a regular shovel to remove it. Do not use a pickax or any sharp or pointed digging tools. Do not stab at the soil or stomp on the shovel with both feet.
- Work with a gentle prying action and dig at an angle, so the shovel will slide along the surface of the wire, conduit or pipe. Or, dig to the depth where you expect the utility line to be, but off to the side. Then use a prying motion to break away soil as you approach the utility laterally.
Use proper hand-digging tools and techniques to safely verify the depth of any buried utilities you must cross or work near.
Buried utilities are supposed to be installed at a specified depth. But in reality, utility depth is unpredictable. Improper installation, landscaping, regrading, repaving, erosion and building development can all alter utility depth.
Vacuum equipment helps you verify utility depth.
Before you can safely cross or work close to an underground utility, you must first verify its depth. Flags and locator marks tell you the direction the utility is running, but not how deeply it is buried. The only way to be sure of utility depth is to carefully expose it yourself.
Vacuum equipment saves hand labor.
Vacuum technology can expose buried utilities without harming them. It uses suction and water pressure to remove soil down to the utility. Operate vacuum equipment only if you have been properly trained in its use.
If damage to a utility does occur, report it immediately.
Repairs can be made more easily while the utility is still exposed. Never try to fix a damaged utility yourself.
Be sure to wear proper personal protective equipment when using vacuum technology to verify utility depth.
Follow recommended practices for backfilling any utilities you uncover or expose with vacuum technology. Check with the local utility owner and municipality. Some facilities require a bed of sand, fine stone or slurry.
Notify 811 well in advance of directional drilling. If you are planning to use directional drilling, call 811 well ahead of the job. Let them know about the equipment you will be using, and ask them to space locator marks closer together. This will help you see if the utility’s path shifts or turns suddenly.
Dig potholes so you can safely monitor the drill head. A buried drill head makes it impossible to tell how close you really are to an existing utility. This makes it especially important to manually expose the line and watch as the drill string passes through. Consult with Utility Name regarding the minimum clearance you must maintain between your boring equipment and any electric or natural gas lines. Use your potholes to watch the drill head cross utility lines during the initial bore and also during backreaming to ensure you maintain the required clearance.
Calibrate the bore head and locating device at the start of each job. Remember, your locating device will monitor the bore head on the pilot pass, but may not be able to monitor the backream head. Plan accordingly if you have to expand the diameter of your bore before installation.
Pothole utilities so you can monitor the bore head path and visually verify a safe distance.
Many drilling rigs have utility strike alarms that will alert you if you contact a buried power line. If this alarm sounds, assume you have hit a live power line and follow your company’s guidelines and the emergency procedures described on this website.
There’s no such thing as minor damage to utilities. What looks like a small nick in a gas, sewer, electric or water line can result in a major health and fire hazard to the surrounding neighborhood. And damaged phone lines or fiber optic cables can disrupt 911 emergency service.
Never bury a damaged utility. Trying to cover up an accident can be dangerous, and can lead to costly damages or criminal charges against you and your company. Take the following steps instead.
If you contact a natural gas pipeline or suspect a gas leak, take these steps:
- Warn others and leave the area immediately.
- Do not use matches, lighters or anything electrical–even a phone. A spark could ignite leaking gas.
- Do NOT attempt to stop the flow of gas or fix the pipeline. Leave the excavation open.
- When you have reached a safe distance, report the incident:
- Call 911 immediately if you suspect a gas leak. Federal code requires this.
- Call Utility Name at 000-000-0000 if you suspect a gas leak or contact a pipeline, even if damage is not apparent. (Outside State Name call 000-000-0000.)
- Stay far away and upwind from the area until safety officials say it is safe to return.
- Report the incident to your supervisor.
Call 911 if you are concerned about your safety.
If you are operating equipment that contacts a power line, take these steps:
- Move the equipment away from the line if you can do so safely.
- Remain on the equipment until utility workers say it is safe to get off.
- Warn others to stay away from the line and anything it is touching. Anyone who touches the line, the equipment or even the ground nearby may be injured or killed immediately.
- Have someone call 911 and Utility Name immediately.
- If fire or other danger forces you off:
- Do NOT touch the equipment and the ground at the same time.
- Jump clear and land with your feet together.
- Shuffle away with small steps, keeping your feet close together and on the ground at all times.
- Do not return to the equipment until utility personnel tell you it is safe.
In the event of any type of utility contact, take appropriate safety steps and notify your supervisor and the utility immediately.
Learn the warning signs of a gas pipeline leak.
Utility Name puts the safety additive mercaptan in natural gas, giving it a distinctive odor and making it easier to detect. Some gas leaks are also detectable by sight or sound. Signs of a gas leak include:
- A distinctive, sulfur-like or rotten-egg odor
- Continuous bubbling in water
- A hissing, whistling or roaring sound
- Dead or dying vegetation (in an otherwise moist area) over or near a pipeline
- Dirt blowing into the air from a hole in the ground
- An exposed pipeline after an earthquake, fire, flood or other disaster
- A damaged connection to a gas appliance