Working near underground utility infrastructure is a big dealthere’s much more at stake than broken down equipment or repairing a line. Failing to properly and accurately survey can result in massive financial liabilities, legal consequences, or worse: serious injury or death.   

More Common Than You Think 

Underground utility damage is unfortunately common, as over 450,000 damage incidents were reported in 2019, according to the Common Ground Alliance (CGA)’s annual report.   

“One of the Report’s most important – and concerning – conclusions is that estimated U.S. damages are trending upward for a fifth consecutive year,” explained Sarah K. Magruder Lyle, President and CEO of the CGA. 

Failure to notify prior to digging (quantified as either failure to call or an incorrect/incomplete request submission) is the biggest individual factor contributing to damages. The preventative nature of this factor is a massive opportunity for the industry to capitalize on. 

 “We, as a damage prevention industry, must consider how to most effectively reverse this trend,” continued Magruder Lyle. “[We must] protect those who live and work near these important assets and reduce the tremendous societal impacts of these damages, which are estimated to have cost $30 billion in 2019 alone.” 

Not so Hidden… 

Across the country, thousands of excavation jobs are started every day. We are all responsible for getting one other home safely at the end of the day. Regardless of the scope of your project, planning is an essential investment in your present, and your future.

The moment a utility line is struck, the entire jobsite grinds to a halt.  Authorities must be notified, damages documented, reports filed, and investigations launched. Failing to account for underground infrastructure is a mistake you literally cannot afford. 

It Costs More than Money 

In Pennsylvania, for example, individual excavators found liable can be administratively fined up to $50,000 and receive up to 90 days imprisonment per dig violation resulting in damage. Excavation laws vary from state to state, but across the country efforts are being made to step up safety practices on the worksite, as rates of fatal work injury among construction workers continue to rise. 

Damages can really add up when you consider: 

  • Fines, 
  • Liability and legal costs, 
  • Serious injury and death, 
  • Lost work time and delays, 
  • Additional engineering and project management hours, 
  • Equipment damage, 
  • Property damage, 
  • Damaged reputation, 
  • Lost revenue.

Underground Utility Damage Can Cost Lives 

This past August, two people were killed while installing fiber-optic internet in Iowa, as the result of a preventable underground electrical strike. In this situation, a quick phone call and a few days would have saved two lives. Regrettably, not all incidents are as easily avoided. Certain larger projects, basic utility mapping may not be sufficient.  

Related Article: Benefits of 3D Utility Mapping. 

 A 1998 incident in Minnesota illustrates the idea that accuracy is paramount: workers were driving an anchor immediately adjacent to a one-inch gas line.  The gas line was properly marked, but the crew failed to check for other underground obstacles.  The anchor hit a rock, bent, then struck and ruptured a one-inch gas line. 

The hit caused an explosion killing four and wounding 12On top of the tragedy, estimated property losses totaled six buildings, $399,000 in damages and a six-month investigation conducted by the National Transportation and Safety Bureau.  

Underground surveillance technology has come great leaps and bounds in 20 years; now trained professionals with the proper equipment can produce surveys accurate to within 5cm. Making the most of these resources is not only the responsibility of this industry, but also provides an extra layer of security around you and your community.  

 3 Steps to Reduce the Risk of Underground Utility Damage

  1. Read The Definitive Guide for Underground Safety and Damage Prevention – The CGA has put together a comprehensive guide, outlining the basics of a safe digging operation.  The CGA is an extremely reliable source of information created specifically for the excavation and construction industry. A great first stop for general and procedural information.  
  2. Call  – Before starting any excavation, it’s absolutely essential you arrange the proper surveying.  The popular 811 “Call Before You Dig” campaign is a valuable resource, but the free service only locates public utility lines. Most jobs will require contacting a private utility locator to make sure you’ve accounted for all subterranean hazards. 
  3. Train  – be absolutely certain you and your team know what they are doing. OSHA provides several excavation safety resources and courses to get your team certified. There is no excuse for not knowing how to do a job safely.  

Digging near underground utilities can have catastrophic consequences, but the most dangerous jobs can be done safely and long as proper and full due diligence has been done.  It takes the same amount of time to pick up the phone and schedule an underground utility surveillance as it did to read this article. Don’t be the next statistic.  


 Thorough planning, diligent safety practices and consistent compliance are vital to a successful project, no matter the scope. As a full-service subsurface utility engineering (SUE) firm, we rise to the most complex client requirements; going above and beyond to give our customers the tools they need to change the world. Helping our partners meet their goals since 1959, we stay at the front of our industry to ensure your highest possible ROI for every project. Contact our team today to find out more about our utility location services. 


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