Page 12 - Alabama 811 Magazine 2022 Issue 2
P. 12

Enforcement is not a new concept. It is not even a new concept in underground
utility industry. To be sure,
it has been the foundation for pipeline safety for generations. The first statute regulating pipeline safety was the Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Act of 1968, which Congress then amended in 1976. Early on, the focus was on the operators and the safe operation of pipelines.
The U.S. Congress, reacting to national tragedies involving underground utilities and armed with statistics showing more than 30% of all damages to underground facilities were caused by third parties, and consequently made protecting our underground utilities a higher priority.
As a result of this congressional interest, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a directive that stakeholders come together to create a measurable and more effective damage prevention program in each state - and one that is based on accountability.
Everyone understands and endorses the principle of accountability. For example, it’s not the fine that causes us to drive within the speed limit; it’s the threat of the fine. If it were not there, most of us
10 • Alabama 811 2022, Issue 2
would drive much faster. The threat of the fine, speed limit signs, the patrol car on the side of the highway, billboards and other advertisements remind us
to drive safely. Most do but what to do with the drivers who routinely refuse to abide by the established rules of the road?
No one wants to fine us; they simply want us to slow down. Effective enforcement is not now, nor has it ever been about fines. It’s a change in our behavior that is expected and if we slow down, then the law is working. Fines are for those who refuse to change their poor behavior.
The objective of enforcement on our state’s highways is to keep the public safe. We don’t want our families placed in harm’s way by reckless behavior, whether it’s excessive speeding or driving under the influence. We have certain expectations that those who disregard these laws will be held accountable for their decisions.
There should be the same expectations when it comes to protecting our underground infrastructure. This
is also about public safety. The objective of enforcement is damage prevention, and damage prevention benefits everyone. Fining someone for making a mistake just makes them
angry and is neither effective nor fair. Effective enforcement is designed to change behaviors. And behaviors
are changed through education – by educating all stakeholders. On the other hand, behaviors can be changed, when necessary, by enforcement, so in that regard enforcement plays a very important role in damage prevention.
It’s not unreasonable to have higher expectations for those involved in the construction industry. Things were a lot different twenty years ago. People didn’t know to call. There weren’t as many underground facilities carrying the kinds or amounts of emergency information as there are today. It’s critical that all stakeholders view their role as the vital link to public safety.
Every state has its own unique excavation damage prevention law commonly referred to as the “One Call” or “Dig” law that establishes requirements for both excavators
and operators of underground infrastructure. The specific requirements vary considerably
from state to state. Requiring all underground utility owner/operators to be a member of 811, mandatory white lining, mandatory damage reporting and defining when a violation occurs is viewed differently.

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