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Utility Markouts: A Small Price to Pay for Safety

When excavating, working with 811 and utility locators can save more than just money! Known by many names: 811, UDig NY, CBYD Call Before You Dig, Miss Utility; Whatever you call it, make sure you call it !

Death, Injury, and Property Damages are just some of the possible outcomes when excavating without utility markouts. Time, money, jobs, and client relationships can be risked which can put an entire business in jeopardy!

As a Heavy Equipment Operating Engineer, I was lucky to learn about utility strikes as an apprentice from onsite mistakes made by others. As a Project Manager I've been tasked with pushing projects as quickly as possible, while balancing client relationships and safety for the crews. As a GPR Technician I've seen how difficult it is to navigate the subsurface from above on a whole different level.

While it requires various levels of processing, the most important aspect of utility avoidance is Communication.

Utility Locates are Worth the Wait!

One of the most effective and efficient ways to ensure utility avoidance is to fully participate in the local 811 utility markout program. This means ensuring the markout request has been placed, and that all utility operators have provided a positive response.

Manage the Process, Don't Let it Manage You!

As a site worker, you may be under a lot of pressure to start the work before the utilities are completely marked, but don't let the company put you in a hazardous situation. At the end of the day you are the most vulnerable person in any excavation scenario, make sure everything has been done to ensure your safety!

As an Engineer, design team professional, or project owner or administrator, it's important to make space in the project timeline for proper utility locating and protection.

As a Project Professional, it may be your job to place markout requests or delegate that work to someone else. Be sure to be thorough and accurate, but also clear and concise.

Manage the relationship you have with the utility locators by answering when they call or email, and by offering to send Work Plans to help them visualize the project. Based on the specific circumstances, it may be beneficial to offer to meet onsite as well.

Remember that any time spent on utility locating ahead of time can help save you from an emergency situation throughout the project.

“Digging without placing an underground utility location request puts families and communities at risk,”NY Local 811 Executive Director

Additional Information Required?

811 programs provide an invaluable service; usually for free (thank you, New Jersey) or for a low annual fee (I'm looking at you, Pennsylvania) - However, they may not provide all the information required. Many of the specifics vary by area.

For example, most 'Private Utilities' are not typically included in the public markout system. Typically, public water supply is included in the public markout system (but not in New York City!)

In these situations, it's important to go to every length to ensure you've received all information available. Contact the utility and/or facility operators for more information, check with the applicable city department for as-built plans, or even consider hiring a private site locator. Until you have all the information available, the markout process is incomplete.

Work in Progress

While work is being performed, it's important to keep utility markouts visible; in many jurisdictions, it's the excavator's responsibility to keep the marks visible or request a new markout. If the work stretches for several blocks, ensure that each location you move to is fully marked-out.

If an unknown obstruction is encountered it's important to be on high alert - follow all required procedures and make decisions according to the level of exposure (daylighted, nicked, damaged) and level of severity (minor, major, imminent emergency).

If a utility has been exposed, you should contact the locator to have them visit the site right away. Helping to identify any shortfalls of the markout process that led to the exposure can help all parties move forward safely.

Sometimes obstructions are just that, and not a utility at all. Drillers hear it all the time "Are you sure you're not on a boulder? Just keep drilling!" and it can be very difficult to know before it's too late. Confer with other workers and site professionals if you have concerns onsite.

Finish strong!

As 'essential' as it is, Utility Locating seems to be a thankless job, with lots of pressure and responsibility to complete their job quickly and accurately, often with sub-par information.

"We just wrapped up on that big job you marked for us. We completed the work safely, it was a lot of coordination and I just wanted to say thanks!" This made a big difference for me with one locator; they seem to prioritize the markouts on our jobs now.

A high-priority, critical, International Airport job (you know the type) lasted about 2 months and we spanned about 30 different locations. I emailed the locator's supervisor about what a wonderful job their locator did; so professional, friendly, and knowledgeable, willing to make every effort to keep work crews and utilities safe. A few days later I got a call from the locator thanking me; by sending that email, I helped him advocate for a raise that he deserved - and received!

Time and Effort Pays Off

Managing markouts on projects for over 8 years, I've learned a great deal about the process, especially that Communication is Key, and when it comes to utilities, there is no room for shortcuts.

Working in engineering/construction is an ever-changing environment, and it's important to stay ahead of every project. Now that you have the needed information available, there's no better way to end a project on a high note than by starting successfully from the ground up!

Leave a comment below, check our current course offerings, and/or book a consultation for your next project!

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