Each year, approximately 700,000 underground utility lines are struck in excavation work, too often with lethal consequences. In 40 percent of these excavations, no calls were made to state one-call centers to ascertain the location of utility lines before digging began.

“A surprising amount of underground infrastructure is needlessly destroyed because digging goes on without first securing a map,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “Sometimes, workers are killed in electrocutions or explosions. This loss and tragedy is completely preventable. All that is required is pre-planning, patience and a phone call.”

Although many states have one-call centers, the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) believes they are not as effective as they can be because there are so many, all with different numbers and domains. They hope that the establishment of one national number will facilitate more effective one-call marketing and wider use of the system.

“We realize people couldn’t find the number, didn’t know about it, thought it cost money or didn’t want to wait the 48- or 72-hour wait period,” said Robert Kipp, President of CGA, on January 24 as he announced plans to launch the “Call Before You Dig” 811 number. “We want the Website [www.Call811.com], public outreach meetings and advertising campaign to get people to call.”

The 811 number was designated by the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002. The Act, itself, followed the formation of the CGA in 2000 after the U.S Department of Transportation released a study addressing the best practices for preventing damage to underground infrastructure. The CGA consists of individuals and industry stakeholders, including excavators, locators, road builders, one call centers, equipment manufacturers and suppliers, state regulators, insurers, engineers, designers, emergency services providers and representatives of the public works, electric, telecommunications, oil, gas and railroad sectors.

When the 811 number becomes active in May, information from callers – primarily, homeowners and professional excavators – will be directed to local centers, which will notify local utilities. The utilities then will map and define lines for free and get the information back to the callers.

The LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division has developed an excavation and trench safety program that is now in the final stages of design production and will be published soon. Health alerts on “Trenching” and “Excavation/Trench Hazards” are available through the Fund’s online publication catalogue. Also available is the Roadway Safety Program that has a module on excavation.

[Steve Clark]