DIRT Info Proves Invaluable

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | April 2013, Vol. 68 No. 4
Robert Kipp, president of the Common Ground Alliance.

The collection and analyzing of data about accidents damaging the nation’s underground utilities is significantly helping efforts to develop and implement programs to protect underground facilities, Robert Kipp, president of the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), said in a presentation at the 2013 UCT Show in Houston in late January.

CGA is a nonprofit, member-driven organization dedicated to establishing and promoting practices to prevent damage to the underground utility infrastructure. Kipp spoke at a session in the event’s Damage Prevention and Safety track.

CGA’s DIRT (Damage Information Reporting Tool) has collected information about 220,000 accidental utility strikes which help identify why these events occurred and actions the industry can take to prevent them in the future. Kipp said DIRT data is a statistically-valid national sample encompassing information from basic utility providers.

“The key finding,” Kipp said, “is that less than one percent of excavations [trenching, excavating, boring or actions disturbing the soil] preceded by a one-call notification experience damages.”

Further analysis of the 2011 DIRT report, Kipp said, showed 26 percent of damages were a direct result of failure to make a one-call notification prior to excavation.

“A call to 811, the national one-call center number, therefore is clearly the simplest and most effective means to reduce or eliminate excavation-related underground utility damages,” said Kipp.

Multiple causes
Failing to locate and mark utilities prior to construction activities is not the sole cause of damage to buried facilities, and the DIRT program seeks to identify all root causes of accidents to assist in educating stakeholders and developing effective damage-prevention programs.

Key questions DIRT seeks to answer regarding each incident are:
• Was a locate request made prior to excavation?
• Was the site properly marked?
• Was the site properly excavated?

Obviously, there can be numerous issues during excavation that can result in an accident and, Kipp said, DIRT data identifies many of those causes.

For example, the 2011 report found that small fencing, irrigation and landscaping contractors were categories most often involved in accidents where no request for locates were made.

“These contractors typically work in areas where underground facilities are found, so we know these markets need to be targeted by awareness efforts,” said Kipp.