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.

Call 811 or place an online request before you dig or move earth in any way—even for small jobs.

  • State Name online request system: www.websitec.com
  • State Name online request system: www.websitec.com

This free service will arrange to have underground utility lines marked so you can dig a safe distance away. Call before you dig, blast, bore, trench, drill, grade or excavate in any way. Even small jobs require a call.

Before you notify, pre-mark your proposed dig area with white paint, flags or stakes.
This helps locators more easily mark the affected utilities.

Wait the required time for lines to be marked, so you can dig a safe distance away.

  • In State Name and State Name, wait at least two full business days before digging, not counting the date that you notify 811, weekends, and legal holidays.

Once utilities are marked, respect the marks, hand expose to verify location and dig with care.

Know what's below. 811 before you dig.Notify 811 well ahead of digging, so underground utilities can be marked and you can work safely.

Mechanical digging with spotters

Shocking fact:
Not all utilities are members of 811. You are responsible for notifying non-member utilities. For a list of these utilities, check with 811 in the state where you will be digging.

Pipeline markers indicate the need for extra care around natural gas transmission pipelines and some distribution lines.
These markers are usually found at roadways, railroad crossings, and other points along the pipeline route. For security purposes, pipeline markers do not show the exact location, path, depth, or number of natural gas pipelines in the area. In addition, pipelines may not follow a straight path between markers.

The markers provide a toll-free number for reporting problems 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Call this number if you notice any unusual or suspicious activities nearby or if you see construction-related activity and no utility personnel are on-site.

Like pipeline markers, online maps indicate the approximate locations of major natural gas pipelines.
To view these maps, visit the National Pipeline Mapping System website.

Pipeline markers and maps indicate only the general location of pipelines. Never use them as a substitute for notifying 811 to have all utility lines in your dig area located and marked.

Shocking fact:
Most pipeline leaks are caused by accidental damage from excavation, construction, or farming activities.

Utility locator markings 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 codes for marking underground utilities. Color code charts are usually available from your local one-call utility locator service.

Locator flags are placed within paint marks.

If you find flags outside the borders of locator markings, someone may have tampered with them. Contact your local one-call utility locator service.

APWA Color Code for Locator Marks
Red Electric power lines
Pink Temporary survey markings
White Proposed excavation
Yellow Gas, oil, or steam
Blue Potable water
Green Sewers and drain lines
Orange Communication lines, cables, or conduit
Purple Reclaimed water, irrigation, and slurry lines

Utility locator markings protect you from injury and prevent damage to underground utilities. Make sure you and your crew know how to read them.

Locator marks

Shocking fact:
You might arrive at a job site and find no markers, even AFTER utility locating has been completed. In this case, do not assume that the area is clear of utilities. Someone may have pulled up the flags or rubbed out the markings. Or the locator may have marked the wrong site. Check for indicators that buried utilities may be present, such as natural gas pipeline markers or utility meters. Contact the 811 service for assistance before starting work.

The tolerance zone protects buried utilities.
The tolerance zone provides a buffer zone to prevent damage to underground utilities that could result from nearby excavation. The tolerance zone is the width of a marked underground utility line plus a specified distance on both sides of that utility: 18 inches in Pennsylvania and 24 inches in West Virginia. Hand dig prudently (or vacuum excavate) in the tolerance zone to determine the exact location and depth of marked utility lines.

The tolerance zone also protects you.
If you do not respect the tolerance zone, you risk contacting buried utilities. You also risk damaging them indirectly by removing supporting soil, which could cause the utility to bend or break. You could be injured or killed, and your company could be liable for any damages that occur.

To avoid utility damage, hand dig or use vacuum technology within the tolerance zone. Use a spotter to observe the excavation when heavy equipment is used near underground gas lines.

Shocking fact:
The width of the tolerance zone varies from state to state, and it is the digger’s responsibility to know what it is.

Proper hand-digging tools and techniques will protect both you and the utility:

  • Use a blunt-nosed shovel to loosen the soil, and a regular shovel to remove it. Do not use a pickax or a pointed spade. 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 to be, but off to the side. Then use a prying motion to break away soil as you approach the utility laterally.

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.

Use proper hand-digging tools and techniques to safely verify the depth of any buried utilities you must cross or work near.

Shocking fact:
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.

Vacuum excavator

Shocking fact:
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.

Know what's below. 811 before you dig.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.

Stay at least three feet away when boring parallel to buried utilities. Pothole utilities so you can monitor the bore head path and visually verify a safe distance.

Drilling machine for trenchless pipelaying

Shocking fact:
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.

Report all gas pipeline contacts to 911 and Utility Name immediately. 

There’s no such thing as minor damage to a gas line. What looks like a small nick can result in a major fire and explosion hazard to the surrounding neighborhood. So if you or someone on your crew contacts a natural gas pipeline, take these steps:

  • Warn others, and leave the area immediately.
  • Do not use matches or a lighter, start an engine, or operate any electrical device—even a phone. A spark could ignite the gas, causing a fire or explosion.
  • Leave the excavation open, and do not attempt to stop the flow of gas or fix the pipeline.
  • When you have reached a safe distance, call 911 and Utility Name immediately at 800-882-3377.
    • Excavators are required by law to call 911 in the event of escaping gas.
    • Call the utility even if there is no visible damage to the pipeline.
  • Stay away from the area until safety officials say it is safe to return.
  • Report the incident to your supervisor.

Never bury a damaged gas pipeline. Trying to cover up an accident can be dangerous, and can lead to costly damages or criminal charges against you or your company.

Shocking fact:
An underground utility contact can happen even if you have dug in the area before or think you know the location of the lines. Landscaping, erosion, or other factors can change the location and depth of underground lines. Notify 811 to have all nearby underground utility lines marked before you begin the job.

Learn the warning signs of a gas leak:

Utility Name adds mercaptan, which has a highly recognizable sulfur-like odor, to natural gas to assist in leak detection. But don’t rely on your nose alone to detect a leak. Use your senses of sight and hearing, as well. Here are the signs:

  • 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 or water being thrown into the air
  • Exposed pipeline after an earthquake, fire, flood, or other disaster
  • A damaged connection to a gas appliance

If you observe any of the above conditions, call the Utility Names emergency phone number at 000-000-0000 and 911 from a safe location.

Contractor hand digging