Digging Safely is as Easy as Dialing 811

Aug. 11 is National 8-1-1 Day. Homeowners and contractors are urged to call 811 before safely starting any digging projects.

August 06, 2014 | By Paul Netter

Call 811.

Sounds pretty simple, right? It does until you learn that 51 percent of homeowners don’t call 811 before digging, according to a survey by the Common Ground Alliance.

The truth is, calling 811 first is the only way to start a digging project — whether you’re planting a shrub or building a pool — because, by law, every dig requires it

With National 8-1-1 Day approaching on Aug. 11 and more than 100 billion feet of underground utilities in the U.S., the call could prevent the power outages that can result when underground utilities are hit and the property damage, injuries and even death that can also occur.

“People digging often don’t understand the risk and aren’t clear if they should get their utility lines marked, and they’ve let scheduling concerns drive their decisions instead of their safety and the safety of the public,” said Gregory McDonald, principal manager, Safety and Environmental Services at Southern California Edison (SCE).

“Neither should ever be compromised. Calling 811 prevents damage to underground utility infrastructure and ensures public safety and environmental protection.”

The 811 campaign, launched in 2009 by the Common Ground Alliance, teams up with utilities to encourage customers and contractors to call 811 before every digging job to have underground utility lines marked for free.

This is especially important considering some of the reasons homeowners gave the alliance for not calling 811, including believing they weren’t digging deep enough to cause a problem or that they already knew where the utility lines were buried. Predictably, it leads to hundreds of thousands of unintentional underground utility-line strikes each year.

To prevent this, call 811 at least two days before the job and professional locators will come out and mark the approximate locations of underground lines with colored paint and/or flags before projects that range from major excavations to the installation of flag poles, sprinklers and even gardening. Utility lines that will be marked include those for electricity, gas, water and sewer, cable TV, telephone and high-speed Internet. The color of the paint and/or flag signifies the type of underground utility. 

In preparation for the professional locators, homeowners and contractors should pre-mark the area where the digging will be done with white paint, stakes with white flags, chalk or any other suitable material, including flour or sugar. Homeowners should also make sure that a contractor, if hired, has called 811. 

Even with the markings, however, McDonald urges people to dig cautiously since the depth of utility lines can differ for many reasons — uneven soil and previous digging among them — and that there also may be multiple utility lines in the same area. 

“Along with the 811 number, the national call before you dig campaign increases public awareness about the importance of using 811, having utility lines marked before digging and protecting America's vast underground infrastructure of pipelines, conduits, wires and cables,” said McDonald. 

Topics: Safety