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Excavating Safely Around Buried Utilities

Excavating safely around buried utilities

In 2017, there were about 439,000 excavation-related damages to underground facilities, according to the most recent Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) report published by the Common Ground Alliance (CGA). While these damages were up by 5.5% from the previous year, CGA found that the increase was in proportion with increases in construction spending and utility locate notifications from one call centers.

So while excavation-related damages to underground facilities are not increasing at a rate faster than that of excavation activity, the number remains high year after year. Because these often preventable mistakes can be costly and even fatal, it is important for excavators to do everything in their power to know the locations of buried utilities and understand the steps they can take to prevent damages on the job site.

updated-pie-chartIn Wisconsin, the first line of defense for preventing damages to underground facilities is Diggers Hotline, Inc. (DHL), or 811. This is the state’s one-call system, which excavators can use to notify all utility members of upcoming excavation projects. Each relevant utility may then locate and mark its underground facilities at the dig site.

Once utilities are marked, it is up to the excavator to respect those marks, use caution when digging anywhere near buried utilities, and report any damages—no matter how small.

As indicated on the pie chart, 52.5% of damage reports where a root cause is listed specify “insufficient excavation practices” as the root cause. Another 23.5% were due to notification never being made. In other words, about 75% of damages can be prevented by the excavator.

Why call 811?

First and foremost, in Wisconsin, it is required by law to provide advance notice by calling 811 at least three business days prior to digging. (In an emergency excavation, the contractor must notify facility owners as promptly as possible and avoid interfering with existing facilities to the extent possible.) Moreover, by having buried utilities marked, excavators can greatly reduce the probability of damages caused by striking underground utilities.

Once the excavator has provided advance notice, DHL creates a ticket and coordinates with all facility owners that have underground facilities within the excavation area of the ticket. Next, “locate technicians” use existing records and electromagnetic utility locating equipment to locate and mark underground facilities using color-coded stakes, flags, and paint.

Excavator Responsibilities as Required by Wisconsin Law

To help protect property, workers, and community members on or near the job site, Wisconsin law holds excavators responsible for the following:

  • Provide advance notice via 811 at least three working days before the start of a non-emergency excavation
  • When emergency excavation is needed, take all reasonable precautions to avoid interfering with existing facilities in the area, and notify facility owners as promptly as possible
  • Provide repeat notice to one-call system if: (1) marks are destroyed or covered by excavation site activities; (2) excavation does not start within 10 days of the scheduled start date; or (3) excavation is interrupted for more than 10 days
  • Provide support for existing transmission facilities in the area that may be necessary or that is specified by the transmission facility owner, unless protection is required by the owner of the transmission facility under s. 66.0831.
  • Before backfilling, inspect any facilities that were exposed during excavation for any indication of having been struck, damaged, dislocated, or disrupted
  • Refrain from backfilling until inspection has been made and any necessary repairs have been made by the owner of the transmission facility
  • Notify transmission facility owner immediately if a facility has been or may have been struck, damaged, dislocated, or disrupted and, if flammable, toxic, or corrosive gas or liquid has escaped that may endanger life, cause bodily harm, or result in damage or property, promptly make a report to the 911 emergency telephone number
  • Backfill an excavation as specified by facility owners or in a manner and with materials that will protect and provide reliable support to transmission facilities during and following backfilling
  • Maintain a minimum clearance of 18 inches between a marking for an unexposed underground transmission facility and the cutting edge or point of any power-operated excavating or earthmoving equipment, except as is necessary at the beginning of the excavation process to penetrate and remove the surface layer of pavement

Additional Tips for Excavating Safely Around Buried Utilities

  • Do not dig before the start time specified on the DHL ticket
  • Look closely for indications of unmarked facilities, such as gas valve covers
  • Hand dig to expose facilities before crossing
  • Do not attempt to repair damaged utilities on your own
  • Be aware of overhead wires
  • Make sure a watchdog or inspector is on site for high priority facilities in the dig area

To discuss these and many other actionable strategies excavators can use to prevent damage to underground utilities, join us for our December 6th seminar. Additionally, led by Andrew LaTona, Operations Supervisor at We Energies, attendees will also learn more about Wisconsin’s Diggers Hotline as well as the underground facility location and marking process. Click here to register

Michael Peden & John Seidel of Integrated Risk Solutions present at May WEGA meeting

Michael Peden and John Seidl of Integrated Risk Solutions presented to fellow members at the May 2017 meeting of the Wisconsin Excavators & Grading Association (WEGA) which was held at Brooks Tractor’s new building in Mt. Pleasant, WI.

The meeting began with open discussion; covering topics ranging from ELD’s, medical cards, and load securement, to what type of vehicles need a DOT number and the weight classes of different vehicles and trailers.

Following this discussion, Integrated’s John Seidl and Michael Peden spoke to members about the importance of vehicle maintenance and how it can impact their business as well as the safety of others around them.  John then demonstrated a safety inspection on a truck that had been supplied by Roman’s Grading Service.img_0110

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Integrated Risk Solutions hosts seminar on DOT compliance for construction non-trucking entities

On February 1st, 2017 Integrated Risk Solutions hosted a seminar covering DOT compliance and the importance of designating someone to be responsible for ensuring your company complies with ever-changing regulations; stressing how failure to comply with DOT regulations can be both costly and damaging to your company’s reputation. The seminar was held in the Integrated Risk Solutions training room at their corporate office in Waukesha, WI.

During this information packed workshop Integrated Risk co-presenters Michael Peden and John Seidl shared timely and valuable information on current DOT regulations in regards to Interstate vs Intrastate, vehicle maintenance, CSA scores, driver qualifications and much more.

Development of a corporate safety strategy was a key topic of discussion; focusing on being aware that a strong safety culture starts from the management side of the company. As John Seidl explained, the safety management cycle relies on policies and procedures, roles and responsibilities, qualification and hiring, training and communication, monitoring and tracking and finally taking meaningful action.

At capacity, the seminar was well attended by business owners, safety professionals, human resources professionals and others with DOT compliance responsibilities.

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Prioritizing DOT Compliance and Reducing Risk in Construction Companies

Who within your company is responsible for ensuring compliance with DOT regulations?

If the answer to this question did not immediately spring to mind, you are not alone. While large trucking companies often have an employee at least partially dedicated to DOT compliance, many companies whose core business operations revolve around construction, excavating, landscape management, and manufacturing do not. Instead, DOT compliance often takes a backseat to OSHA compliance for a variety of reasons.

For example, most contractors simply don’t have the luxury of dedicating a staff member to DOT compliance. Even those who have appointed a staff member to absorb duties related to DOT compliance quickly learn that this individual lacks the expertise required to develop and oversee a comprehensive DOT compliance program. Important issues—like ensuring each driver of a DOT-regulated vehicle meets the necessary qualifications and undergoes thorough training and drug testing—begin to fall by the wayside.

As a result, many contractors are facing unnecessary risks related to accidents, DOT inspections and interventions, and financial liability. After all, while trucking may not be a large part of their core business operations, contractors often use trucks to support their core business operations. In turn, some of the highest risk factors presented by those trucks from a liability and regulatory standpoint are tied directly to DOT compliance.

Why is it important for contractors to focus on improving their DOT compliance programs?

Top 10 Violations TableThe answer is three-fold:

  • Transportation-related accidents, while relatively low in frequency, result in a high severity—both in terms of risk to people and property and significant financial liability due to the increasing likelihood of litigation.
  • The lack of a preventative equipment maintenance program often leads to inspections, fines, delays in work productivity, and an increased cost of repairs over time.
  • FMCSA and/or State Patrol interventions can result in adverse safety ratings, civil penalties, and inflated insurance costs.

After recognizing this potential compliance gap, it is essential for company leaders to take steps to implement a full DOT compliance program and reduce exposure to risk and liability going forward.

What are some of the key DOT regulations commonly pertaining to contractors?

Top 20 Driver Violations Pie ChartFollowing is a list of relevant Parts issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA):

  • Part 380: LCV Driver-Training and Driver-Instructor Requirements
  • Part 382: Controlled Substances and Alcohol Use and Testing
  • Part 383: CDL Standards: Requirements and Penalties
  • Part 385: Safety Fitness Procedures
  • Part 387: Minimum Levels of Financial Responsibility for Motor Carriers
  • Part 390: Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations: General
  • Part 391: Qualification of Drivers
  • Part 392: Driving of Motor Vehicles
  • Part 393: Parts and Accessories Necessary for Safe Operation
  • Part 395: Hours of Service of Drivers
  • Part 396: Inspection, Repair, and Maintenance

Take Part 395 pertaining to hours of service (HOS) as an example: does each driver meet the applicable interstate or intrastate HOS? Do they complete driver records of duty status (RODS), or are they exempt? What is an Electronic Logging Device, and do you need one? This is just a small sample of the questions that need answers if your company is going to build a strong DOT compliance program!

If the FMCSA or the State Patrol visited your company today, would you be confident in your overall level of compliance with FMCSA safety regulations?

We can help! To learn more about how your company can close DOT compliance gaps and reduce risk, join us for our Education Seminar on February 1st. Click here for more information.