A New Tool for Safer Excavations

Editor's Commentary

All it takes is one. A single utility hit can potentially cost your business thousands of dollars in damages to property and underground infrastructure, plus liability for loss of services. It can cost even more in the form of fines, increased insurance rates and equipment replacement costs. Worst of all, is the potential cost to your employees. In the most severe cases, they may face the loss of their livelihood - and perhaps even their lives.

Yet despite the risks, a large percentage of excavations continue to go unmarked prior to digging. According to the Common Ground Alliance (CGA), a member-driven association dedicated to promoting effective damage prevention practices, in the past year, no locate was requested in approximately 40% of the incidents in which damage to underground pipelines and other facilities occurred.

The CGA, along with the Federal Communications Commission, believe one reason for the failure to call is the confusion about which number excavators should use for a particular area. Until this year, the United States has been served by 62 separate and distinct One-Call Centers. These centers receive more than 20 million calls annually through 62 separate toll-free (800) numbers, plus local numbers in some centers.

Consequently, on March 10, 2005, the Federal Communications Commission approved the use of 811 as a national call-before-you-dig telephone number that will interface with existing One-Call Centers. Already in place in certain areas, the 811 number is scheduled to be in operation nationwide by April of this year.

The 811 number is not intended to replace existing One-Call Center phone numbers. Rather, it will act as an additional number to contact the centers. Contractors requiring a utility locate can dial 811 and automatically reach the One-Call Center nearest to the caller location. One-Call personnel will then contact the appropriate locating service to mark buried utilities at the jobsite.

The idea is to offer a simpler, easy to remember alternative to traditional phone numbers. Bob Kipp, CGA's executive director, equates 811 to using a "speed-dial number," noting that a three-digit number is much easier to recall than 10 digits.

The CGA is currently embarking on a national campaign to spread awareness of the availability of the 811 number. It's hoped that by raising public awareness, the number will eventually become synonymous with contacting One-Call services, much as 911 is used to secure local emergency services.

Because the national 811 number does not go into effect until April, it's important to continue to use existing One-Call Center numbers until then. To find a number for a center near your jobsite, visit www.digsafely.com. You can also visit www.commongroundalliance.com for further information on excavating safety.

In the meantime, start spreading the word about 811. Lives and livelihoods depend on it.???