Page 22 - Alabama 811 Magazine 2022 Issue 3
P. 22

Long, long ago and far, far
away (when I was much,
much younger), I worked as a laborer building houses. The pay was not that much – especially
by today’s standards – but I needed
the money and the education was priceless! What does that have to do with excavation safety? Let’s just say we did not have our own backhoe. I spent a LOT of time with a shovel in my hand. Later, I had a summer job working for the International Union
of Operating Engineers as an oiler
on heavy equipment. More priceless education and much better pay working on machines that moved dirt.
All of this occurred before OSHA was established in 1971, before the Pipeline Safety Regulations (49 CFR Parts 190- 199) became effective, long before the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century was passed in 1998, long before the Common Ground Alliance was established on June 15, 2000, and long before “Know what’s below: Dial 811.” Interestingly, the first one call center
(at least to the best of my knowledge) was established in Pennsylvania in September 1972 and the longest serving director of any US one call center is
Bill Kiger of what is now known as Pennsylvania811. Bill has very ably and tirelessly served the damage prevention cause with the support of his lovely wife Ellen since 1974!!
The definition of excavation varies
from state to state as do the “call
before you dig laws.” For purposes of this discussion, excavation means any disturbance of the surface of the earth (including submerged land). Excavation
Excavation Safety
safety includes the protection of underground utilities such as pipelines, electrical supply lines, communication lines, even sewers and water lines as well as the safety of the individuals doing the excavation. Secondary beneficiaries include anyone nearby or anyone who might need the utilities that might be interrupted.
What’s the point? The point is that I was very lucky!! I don’t recall wearing a hard hat or safety shoes during my early years. I did wear glasses because I could not afford contacts but I did not wear hearing protection and now need hearing aids to hear somewhat normally.
I still have all my fingers and toes. The worst I was ever injured was a nasty splinter in one leg. I had to have it removed by a doctor but luckily my employer paid for it. I was also very lucky in that there were not nearly as many things underground to worry about back then and we never hit anything that exploded or killed anyone. I do not recall anyone EVER calling before we started digging. Pure luck!!
Today, every state has a “call before you dig” law to prevent damage to underground utilities. Today, OSHA requires PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Today, there are a lot more utilities underground and the ones that are underground can be deadly! It is an absolute fact that calling before you dig significantly reduces – but does not completely eliminate – the likelihood of hitting an underground utility. ALWAYS CALL BEFORE YOU DIG!!
by John Jacobi
Most recently installed underground utilities can be located efficiently
(e.g., underground plastic gas lines should have tracer wire) but legacy underground utilities may have been abandoned, mistaken for active utilities by the utility locators or excavators
or otherwise unlocatable. The end result is that just because something that looks like the underground utility of concern is exposed does not mean that an excavator can continue to dig without staying alert. There could be other utilities down there. The utility that was exposed may be another utility that was not “on the radar.” The “live” utility may be nearby just waiting to hurt someone or something. Even
if the utility was accurately located
and identified, there could be other utilities present that are not on the radar but that could be equally or more dangerous.
As with anything else, there are two things that can get an excavator in BIG trouble very quickly: Things that we think we know that we don’t and things that we do not know that we do not know!! It is very difficult to be TOO careful.
Remember, Murphy (of Murphy’s Law) was an optimist. Be aware of your surroundings and (one more time) ALWAYS CALL BEFORE YOU DIG!!
John Jacobi retired from PHMSA. For questions or comments, email:
20 • Alabama 811 2022, Issue 3

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