Calling 811 before digging is more than a formality; the simple exercise can save lives.
Damage prevention consultant Walt Kelly recalled several stories of lives lost and workers permanently scarred because they accidentally hit a power line or utility pipe during a project.
In one case, workers were trenching in an electrical line across a parking lot and hit an unmarked gas service line. The gas leaked into a nearby store, causing an explosion. A woman working in the store lost her leg in the incident.
“She was trapped in the rubble for several hours,” Kelly said. “She says she wakes up in the middle of the night thinking she is still trapped in the building and tries to leap out of bed and run. Forgetting she has only one leg, she falls flat on her face.”
To prevent such tragedies, excavators should comply with state one-call laws, which require them to give notice of a proposed project and wait for facility operators to mark underground utilities or provide clearance.
Kelly cautioned that failing to do so could result in a company being held liable for injuries, property damage and legal fees in the event that workers make contact with a utility line.
“Even for very, very large excavating companies, just one of these multimillion-dollar cases could put them out of business,” Kelly said, “and certainly for the little mom-and-pop operator it would be financially devastating.”
Shared communication is important even after a company has fulfilled its legal obligation. Kelly advised looking for indications of lines that may not be marked or are marked improperly. After all, it only takes one backhoe dig to hit a high-pressure gas line.