Watch where you dig: Utilities issue reminders during National Safe Digging Month

Published on April 04, 2022 by Chris Galford

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As April once again brings National Safe Digging Month, utilities are reminding communities to call 811 before digging to avoid injuries, outages, and/or costly repairs.

Underground utility lines need to be marked before digging or excavating to avoid the worst risks. According to Piedmont Natural Gas and its parent company, Duke Energy, utilities’ underground lines were hit nearly 9,800 times last year in their service area alone. That means the danger grew over the year by 68 percent.

“Now that spring has arrived, many people may be working on outdoor projects that could involve digging,” Brian Weisker, Duke Energy senior vice president and COO, said. “We ask anyone who might be starting a project in their yard to please remember to make a free call to 811 at least three days before they dig to help prevent personal harm, service outages, and costs to replace damaged lines. In addition to the danger and expense of damaged utilities, many incidents lead to road closures and evacuations, and they can tie up police, fire, and other emergency resources who are needed elsewhere.”

The 811 Call Before You Dig system is a free national service created so anyone planning yard work or construction projects can call ahead to have underground utility lines marked. Utilities have urged anyone planning excavation projects to call at least three business days before digging commences so that electric, natural gas, water, sewer, phone, cable TV, and other lines can be marked out with stakes, flags, or paint.

Failing to do so could bring great risks. Underground utility lines can be buried only a few inches below the surface, whether due to erosion or other projects and hitting one could bring hefty costs to health or repair costs of $3,500 and up, on average.

In 2021, the national Common Ground Alliance (CGA) reported an estimated 468,000 excavation-related damages inflicted on underground facilities throughout 2020. While that was a decrease in damage over 2019’s 532,000 hits, the organization reported that the single largest root cause remained the same, year after year: failure to call ahead.

“Even if your digging project is small, calling 811 will help you dig safely and avoid expensive repair costs,” Joe Forline, gas operations senior vice president for Pacific Gas and Electric, said. “There is far too much risk with guessing where utility lines are located or how deep they may be. The safest play is to call 811 before you dig, and a crew member will come out to mark where your lines are located.”

According to utilities like PG&E, leading causes of underground utility line damage include: building or replacing a fence, gardening and landscaping, planting a tree or removing a stump, sewer and irrigation work, and building a deck or patio.