When Do Contractors Need To Conduct Their Own Locates?

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | May 2011, Vol. 66 No. 5

Preventing damage to underground utility infrastructure is a priority for utility operators and contractors who excavate, drill and bore in areas where there are existing utilities.

Even so, accidental strikes of underground utility lines continue to interrupt essential services, cause millions of dollars in damage every year, result in serious injuries and sometimes loss of life.

As utility easements become more crowded, preventing damage to underground facilities has become increasingly challenging.

Typically, utility locates are initiated through the nation’s one-call system. Local one-call agencies notify member utility owners who are responsible for marking locations of their pipe or cable on construction sites, either with their own personnel or contract locating companies.

However, there are instances where one-call locates cannot be made, leaving the responsibility to project owners, planners and often the contractor who will do the project.

During the Damage Prevention & Safety Program at the 2011 UCT show last January, Kevin Miller, president of Miller Pipeline LLC., conducted a session about circumstances when contractors may need to make underground utility locates.

Miller said the primary driver for contractors to do their own locates is to identify unmarked sewer laterals in order to prevent crossbores -- drilling through an unmarked lateral while installing gas lines or power cable by horizontal directional drilling.

Only occasionally do Miller Pipeline crews need to do locates on projects not related to crossbores, such as when working in areas where the utilities belong to property owners that don’t utilize the one-call system.

“Examples might be a large factory, commercial complexes or mobile home parks,” he said. “The contractor may face the need either to locate the existing utilities or hire a third party to locate and mark them. Some contract locating companies that serve the utilities will also make locates for contractors in these situations. Pricing for this type of work usually is done on an hourly basis, instead of lump sum per locate as it is for their big utility clients. If the job requires that utilities be accurately marked within the 24-inch ‘window’ accepted as a standard by One-
Call, most of these contractors will do a good job. There also are smaller locating specialists who do not serve one-call utilities, but who will make private locates.”

Miller stated that all Miller Pipeline crews are equipped with electromagnetic locators, the industry’s basic locating tool.

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