The Importance of Precision

By: Brandon Ragone

Are you a homeowner planning to dig or excavate on your property, or a contractor working on a jobsite? Before you grab your shovel or excavator and break ground, it’s important to remember that there may be more than meets the eye lurking beneath the surface. Hidden utility lines, pipes, and cables can pose a serious safety hazard if not properly located and marked before excavation begins. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of accurate utility locating and the common misconceptions that can lead to costly mistakes and safety hazards. Whether you’re planting a tree, installing a fence, or excavating building foundations, understanding the importance of utility locating is the first step in any successful excavation project for both property owners and contractors alike.

The Benefits of Hiring a Professional Utility Locating Service

When it comes to utility locating, safety and accuracy is key. By working with a professional utility locating service, you can enjoy a range of benefits, including:

## Safety Protocols

In early 2019, a San Francisco, CA excavation crew accidentally ruptured a 4” natural gas line, causing an explosion and a massive fire. The crew had such difficulty determining where the valves that would turn off the gas flow were located that the fire raged for over two hours, damaging local businesses and apartments. In 2021, the National Transportation Safety Board issued its finding of blame, stating that the excavation crew had not conducted a proper locate before starting to dig. Utility locating can be a hazardous process, and it’s essential to follow proper safety procedures to avoid injury or damage to the utilities. Professional utility locators prioritize safety and follow strict safety protocols to minimize the risk of accidents on the job site.

## Time and Cost Savings

Hiring a professional utility locating service can save you time and money in the long run. Accurate utility locating can help you avoid costly delays and rework, and it can help you identify potential issues before they become major problems. This can help you complete your project on time and within budget.

## Expertise and Experience

When it comes to utility locating, there are many factors that can impact the accuracy of the results. Factors such as soil type, depth of the utility, type of material, and the age of the infrastructure can all play a role in how easily utilities can be located. Professional utility locators have the expertise and experience to navigate these factors and provide accurate results. Additionally, they have access to specialized equipment that can help them locate utilities more accurately and efficiently. For example, ground penetrating radar (GPR) can be used to locate non-metallic or inaccessible utilities, while electromagnetic locators can be used to locate isolated utilities that are closer to the surface. Overall, the expertise and experience of a professional utility locator can ensure that the results are accurate and reliable, which is essential for any excavation project.

## Compliance with Legislation and Regulations

In the United States, the utility locating industry is governed by a range of legislation and regulations. Failure to comply with these can result in fines and legal action. Professional utility locators have the knowledge and expertise to ensure that you’re complying with the law and avoiding any potential legal issues. Here are some of the relevant regulations and legislation:

  • OSHA Standard 1926.651: This regulation requires that utilities be located and marked before excavation work begins.
  • Common Ground Alliance Best Practices: These guidelines provide a framework for safe excavation practices, including accurate utility locating.
  • The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA): The PHMSA is a federal agency responsible for regulating the transportation of hazardous materials, including pipelines. They provide a range of regulations and guidelines for the utility locating industry, including the requirement to call 811 before beginning any excavation project.
  • State and Local Regulations: In addition to federal regulations, many states and localities have their own laws and regulations governing utility locating.

Common Misconceptions

There are several common misconceptions about utility locating that can lead to costly mistakes and safety hazards. Here are a few:

  • “I can just dig around the utilities”: This is a dangerous misconception that can lead to serious safety hazards. Even if you think you know where the utilities are located, there’s always a chance that they could be in a different location or at a different depth than you expect.
  • “I don’t need to locate utilities for small projects”: No matter the size of your project, it’s important to locate utilities to avoid potential safety hazards and costly mistakes. Even a small excavation project can damage a utility line, which can lead to serious consequences.
  • “I can save money by doing it myself”: While it’s true that you can save money by doing it yourself, the cost of mistakes and potential legal issues can far outweigh the cost of hiring a professional. Plus, many professional utility locating services offer competitive rates and can work with you to find a solution that fits your budget.
  • “I’ll just call 811 to locate everything”: While the USA-811 dig alert system is a valuable resource for contractors and property owners looking to locate underground utilities, it is not a “one stop shop” for all your utility locating needs. One of the biggest misconceptions about the system is that it provides complete and accurate information about all the underground utilities in a given area. In reality, the dig alert system only covers public utilities, such as gas, electric, communication and water lines, and does not include private utilities, such as lines for irrigation systems, septic tanks, private wells, or anything beyond the demarcation point (meter). Finally, the dig alert system does not take into account the presence of abandoned or undocumented utilities, which can pose a serious safety hazard if accidentally disturbed during excavation. Because of these limitations, it’s important to work with a professional utility locator to ensure that all utilities are accurately located and marked before excavation begins.

In conclusion, accurate utility locating is essential for any excavation project, no matter how big or small. A professional utility locator can help you avoid costly mistakes, ensure safety, and save you time and money in the long run. Don’t take any chances when it comes to underground utilities – contact a professional utility locator today to get started on your next project.

About the Author:

Brandon Ragone is a Utility Designator and LiDAR Analyst at GIS Surveyors, Inc. With nine years of experience in the public utilities industry. Brandon is a passionate technician, tinkerer, and small business owner. He’s dedicated to using technology and creative problem solving to tackle complex challenges and can be found on LinkedIn.

All opinions expressed by blog contributors are the sole opinion of the author and does not reflect the opinions of GIS Surveyors, Inc. The author’s opinions are based upon information they deem reliable, but neither GIS Surveyors, Inc. nor its sister company warrant its’ complete accuracy and assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content. The information within contains only general information about land surveys, utility locating, geospatial analysis, and LiDAR production. It does not serve as professional advice and should not be treated as such. GIS Surveyors, Inc. reserves the right to change information presented in this blog at any time.