The Value Of Accident Documentation

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | February 2013, Vol. 68 No. 2
Ron Peterson, Utility Consulting Professionals

Accidental damage to underground utilities continues to occur with disappointing frequency, despite programs implemented by the Common Ground Alliance and ongoing efforts of utility owners and operators, One-Call organizations and other groups with a stake in protecting buried facilities.

By definition, an accident is unexpected. Hitting buried pipe or cable during excavation may be anything from cutting a residential telephone line that can cause inconvenience and downtime, to striking a high-pressure gas line that can lead to a major disaster possibly causing injury, death and extensive property damage.

Fortunately, most utility hits are not life threatening. But no matter how minor, an investigation will follow and an attempt made to fix blame. Utility hits can disrupt service and result in damage claims for lost revenue. Costly litigation likely will follow with legal costs even for those not at fault. Insurance rates and bonding costs may increase, and if OSHA violations are found, fines levied.

Therefore, it is important that the crew foremen and supervisors know what to do if an accident does occur and gather accurate information about exactly what happened.

“It is critical to gather clear, concise information and photos when performing a damage investigation,” says Ron Peterson, president, Utility Consulting Professionals Inc. “The investigator should collect data in an effort to tell the story of the incident to someone that will most likely never be at the site. With the cost of damages on the rise, a quality damage investigation can save the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The results of an investigation should include written details, photographs and video footage, if appropriate. Good photos are essential.

Statement critical
Peterson said information that should be gathered includes statements from witnesses, crew members and utility representatives. If subcontractors were involved, statements from their personnel are also necessary.

Record the number of utility people that were on site and how many were actually involved in the project.

Accidents can be similar, but each is unique. How much documentation is needed varies with each incident. A typical incident requires statements from witnesses, crew members, locators and utility representatives.

A specific file should be created for incident documents.