Utility damage prevention to enhance safety and protect underground facilities is a shared responsibility. All excavators, utilities, locators, one-call/dig safe systems and others must take this responsibility seriously. Preventing damage to underground facilities/utilities may start with a phone call to 811 but there is more to it than that. The process begins with the excavator calling 811 to request a locate and to provide information about the location and the work to be performed. The accuracy of the information provided is critical to ensuring the correct location is marked by the locator in a timely manner so the work may begin. The information is then forwarded to the appropriate utility locators who then visit the site where the excavation work will begin after the locator marks the utilities. Before digging, I recommend pot holing to verify the type of utility, its actual location and depth. After all the utilities are marked and verified the contractor may begin the excavation work.
All this sounds simple enough, but as you probably already know there is a lot of room for error. This is why the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), a member-driven organization representing 15 groups of stakeholders, was formed in 2000. NUCA has been a CGA member since the Alliance’s founding. The CGA’s mission is to help stakeholders prevent utility damages by identifying, developing and promoting best practices that reduce the number of utility damages.
Over the years CGA has developed a set of best practices which are available to all stakeholders. Although these best practices are not regulations, they are in line with many of the State one-call/dig-safe laws and, in fact, go above and beyond most regulations. They are a great resource for any excavator/contractor seeking an accurate understanding of the damage prevention process and are tremendously useful as a guide for establishing a company’s damage prevention program.
Since 2003 CGA has been collecting data on utility damages using its Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT). DIRT is a secure web application that allows users to submit damage reports, mismarked utilities, near miss reports and downtime along with other pertinent information.
- How many damages occur each year?
- What are the primary causes of damages and near misses?
- Are these events increasing or decreasing, and why?
- Are some educational campaigns more effective in preventing damages than others?
These are some of the many questions that the CGA is working to answer through the collection of data nationally. As more companies voluntarily submit data, CGA is better able to report back to the industry on the state of damage prevention throughout North America.
The primary purpose in collecting underground facility damage data is to analyze data and trends, to learn why damage events occur and how actions by the industry can prevent them in the future, thereby ensuring the safety and protection of the public and saving some of the billions of dollars this damage causes each year.
In order to better understand where, how and why underground facility damage is occurring, CGA requires accurate and comprehensive data from all stakeholders. The data is analyzed and findings are published in comprehensive reports. The data is not used for enforcement purposes or to try and determine damage liability. The individual identities of parties involved with records submitted are kept confidential.
CGA has been doing a great job of collecting information from those interested stakeholders who have submitted their data as to why, from their point of view, a particular damage, mismark or near miss occurred. Unfortunately, professional utility contractors and excavators have been slipshod when it comes to inputting information into the DIRT. Therefore when CGA creates its annual report, professional contractor data is combined with all other parties that fit within the definition of excavators (utility construction crews, municipality crews, farmers, home owners, railroad crews and others). NUCA representatives believe this leads to contractors being singled out as culpable when it comes to damage events because the data shows that excavators, per the CGA definition, are the leading cause of utility damages.
At NUCA, we know our membership is well informed about calling before they dig and do make the calls as required by state laws. However, professional contractors often find that there are problems with the marking of many locations. Every contractor can tell stories of how they struck — or nearly did — an improperly or inadequately marked utility. For this reason, NUCA has embarked on a mission to collect data from NUCA members using NUCA’s own DIRT. We need to know more about why our members hit or come close to hitting utilities. Was the utility not marked properly, supposedly abandoned or not on the maps? A near-miss is just as important to know about as a miss. We need this information! It will be used by NUCA to determine the problems our members are facing and then it will be uploaded to CGA’s DIRT to be included in their annual analysis and report. All company identifiers are confidential so don’t be concerned that this information could be used against your company.
NUCA DIRT is up and running and we need our members to input data about one-call notification, location or excavation practices that are not sufficient, as well as other root causes of utility damage. All information is provided in an online checklist type of form that is simple to fill out.
NUCA DIRT is our own version of DIRT customized for our organization. It uses CGA’s DIRT form and includes some additional fields that will allow us to collect information pertinent to our members; this additional information will not be shared with CGA when the data is uploaded.
For the good of the industry we need all our members to join in and participate in NUCA’s DIRT. If you are already submitting data to CGA’s DIRT, notify George Kennedy and we can have your account transferred to NUCA’s DIRT. If you have never signed up, all you have to do is go to www.cga-dirt.com/nuca and follow the simple instructions. Once your account has been established, the administrator can designate other people within the company who will be able to use the account and submit damage reports. All this is explained in the simple User’s Guide available online.
As I said before, for the good of the industry we need your help to complete this project and to collect more specific construction-related utility damage prevention data. Warren Graves, Team Fishel, who is NUCA’s current Safety and Damage Prevention Committee chairman and CGA co-primary on the CGA Best Practice Committee, has made it his goal to get NUCA DIRT effectively working by 2016. Help Warren make this happen by signing up your company today and entering the data whenever your company damages a utility or even comes close to doing so. It really is important and you can help prevent utility damages in the future by providing accurate data.
George Kennedy is NUCA Vice President of Safety.