Spotlight on National Safe Digging Month

One of GPRS’ favorite construction industry initiatives is National Safe Digging Month.

Celebrated each April, NDSM boosts awareness and activities that promote safe digging practices.

Recognized by the United States Congress and most state governors, this month of safe digging awareness and damage prevention is timed in conjunction with the spring season, in which many digging projects begin.

Every state has some form of safe digging law in effect designed to ensure that any groundbreaking activities will not disrupt existing utilities or structures. There is also a mandatory time frame involved with these laws, most often requiring that the party intending to dig – whether a large construction firm, a singular contractor, or even a homeowner digging in their own backyard – contacts the local municipality within a certain number of business days.

In the case of trenching, the federal government recently took action to ensure the safety of construction workers. The U.S. Department of Labor and The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) implemented “Enhanced Enforcement” measures in the wake of what they referred to as an “alarming rise in trench-related fatalities” in 2022.

Why Does Safe Digging Matter, and What are the Consequences if Laws are not Followed?

The consequences of not following safe digging laws, codes, and best practices can be dire both for the person or entity performing the digging, and the surrounding community.

According to research conducted for GPRS in 2021 by Finch, the average cost of one utility strike is approximately $56,000. Then there could be additional cost in the form of fines – upwards of $10,000 per incident – levied on the person or entity that was digging, should it be determined that they were not following their state’s safe digging laws.

Additionally, a severed gas or electrical line could result in catastrophic damage that endangers both those performing the groundbreaking activities and those in the surrounding community. A damaged water or communications line could disrupt services to thousands.

Safe digging practices ensure your projects stay on time, on budget, and – most importantly – safe.

811 One Call public utility locates are available in every state to provide both homeowners and professional excavators with the locations of any public utilities in the area in which they are planning on digging. In the case of larger projects, the contractor – not the entity who hired them – is required to contact these services prior to breaking ground.

But 811 only locates public utilities. You also need to contact a private utility locator such as GPRS to truly ensure a site is clear of obstructions prior to beginning groundbreaking activities.

Should something go wrong during excavation, the company or individual involved is required by law to immediately notify the authorities. Many states maintain a notification system that alerts residents when their home is within a certain radius of a large digging project. This system will also be used in emergency situations to alert homeowners when a utility line is struck or other subsurface damage occurs.

Some states even employ damage prevention professionals, staffed to answer questions before and during a digging project.

How Do I Ensure a Safe Dig?

There are several ways, legally required and/or generally recommended, to prevent mishaps while digging underground:

  1. Call 811, or the equivalent phone number in your state, prior to breaking ground. By contacting this service with three business days’ minimum notice, you can ensure proper utility marking with paint or flags. This is a free service and encourages compliance with safe digging practices. To find your state’s appropriate local phone and online digging safety resources, visit Call811.com to begin your research.
  2. Educate yourself via the many resources surrounding safe digging practices. Educational videos for excavators and facility operators on sites like YouTube can provide guidance both from government authorities and other firms who are experienced in the same types of digging projects as your company. Exchanging ideas can also be a helpful tool; your firm may find education in conferences such as the annual CGA Conference & Expo, whose 2023 offering was entitled “On the Road to Zero Damages”. Conferences and workshops with industry leadership can promote safety, technological improvements, awareness of safe digging practices, and networking.
  3. Partner with SiteMap®, powered by GPRS! Our SiteMap® software capabilities allow you to view subsurface mapping and data, and can update it in real-time when construction projects or natural shifts occur underground. Additionally, our cloud-based solution can serve as a one-stop repository for permits and other documents, accessible by anyone on your team with the proper credentials. No longer must that paperwork be stored in an employee’s filing cabinet; it is centrally located and can be produced on-demand when collaborating with municipalities, utility companies, facility supervisors, and construction crew.
  4. Understand excavation protection methods. If you’re approaching a large-scale project, OSHA says three protective measures may assist you. Sloping is one option; it facilitates stability and drainage by cutting a trench wall angled away from the excavation site. Shoring is the second option, utilizing supports typically made from aluminum to protect areas of unstable ground. Shielding is the third option, in which you install nets or barriers to protect workers and equipment from debris. In all three cases, this should be executed by seasoned professionals.

The need for safe digging is ever-present, and when you apply the techniques and plans mentioned above, you can ensure a successful dig which prioritizes and protects the surrounding land and lives. If you’re approaching a major digging project, contact GPRS for more details on subsurface scanning, cloud-based document viewing and retention, and more.