Accident Prevention Begins Before Excavation

First In A Two-Part Series
By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | January 2013, Vol. 68, No. 1

In the past decade, many positive steps have been taken to reduce accidental damage to underground utilities, yet construction crews still hit buried pipe and cable on a regular basis, causing service outages, work delays and sometimes serious injuries and death.

Following any utility hit is the question: Who was at fault?

If significant damages result and workers or others are injured, costly litigation is sure to follow, and when injuries are involved, OSHA will investigate and can levy fines where safety procedures were not followed. Legal fees and judgments against those found at fault can be hundreds of thousands of dollars and in some instances can force a contracting company out of business.

Accidents never are expected. But when a utility hit occurs, it is essential that the project foreman and personnel on site know exactly what to do and gather and document details for use in the investigation that will follow, says Ron Peterson, president, Utility Consulting Professionals Inc. Peterson has 17-years of industry locating experience, eight with a utility claims department, two as an insurance adjustor and seven years as a utility contractor. He is a member of the Common Ground Alliance and National Utility Contractors Locating Association and has been an expert witness in numerous utility damage lawsuits.

Accident prevention begins long before excavation starts, and Peterson says best practices steps taken during planning should be carefully documented and can play an important role in protecting the contractor from future claims.

This article is the first of a two-part series and covers pre-excavation documentation. The second will discuss investigation procedures to take immediately after an accident. In both reports, excavation means any activity that displaces the soil: excavation, trenching, directional drilling or vertical drilling. Facilities encompass any type of buried utility: pipe, cable, duct or conduit for water, sewer, natural gas, electrical power and communications.

A key to preventing utility hits is accurately locating and marking existing underground facilities, and the nation’s One-Call system is the starting point for arranging utility locates on a job site.

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