A new report indicates contractors haven’t made any improvements since 2019 when it comes to damaging underground utilities, and the leading cause is still that they aren’t notifying 811 before digging.
The 2021 Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) Report released in October by the nonprofit Common Ground Alliance shows that between 2019 and 2021 the number of reported damages held steady or slightly increased. In the U.S., 192,745 unique damages to underground utilities were reported in 2021.
With the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law leading to increased construction activity, there is a risk for increased damages in the future if contractors don’t do a better job of following safer practices, the report says.
“Underground utility damages have an estimated societal cost of $30 billion each year,” says Sarah Magruder Lyle, Common Ground Alliance president and CEO. “With increased excavation activity and significant investment in infrastructure on the horizon with the passage of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, it is critical that the industry commit to taking concrete actions to address the inefficiencies within our industry and reverse this trend in damages.”
The leading causes
Most of the damages, 76%, can be attributed to three main causes:
- No notification to the 811 locator center.
- Failure to pothole and/or maintain sufficient clearance.
- Utilities not marked or marked inaccurately due to locator error.
The report says that professional excavators have a high awareness of 811, yet they are responsible for 60% of the damages because they fail to notify 811. “It is important to note that 36% of those professional excavators failing to contact 811 were likely working on projects associated with utilities.”
The leading equipment type causing damage are backhoes, followed by hand tools, horizontal directional drills, trenchers and dozers. Contractors are the leading source of the damage.
Natural gas and telecommunications, including cable TV, lines incur the most damages. The report says excavation practices contribute to the majority of natural gas line damages, while locating practices contribute to the majority of telecom damages.
How to prevent strikes
To reduce the number of underground utility strikes, the report recommends that the excavation and utilities industries:
- Focus prevention efforts and investment on the leading root causes of damage.
- Strengthen engagement with public works stakeholders.
- Expand damage prevention outreach to address increasing construction activity.
- Enhance excavator education around consistent and efficient use of 811, as well as safe excavation within the tolerance zone.
The CGA also calls on industry stakeholders to improve damage reporting. Stakeholders not currently contributing but interested in submitting data for the 2022 report should go to www.cga-dirt.com.
To download the full report, go to https://dirt.commongroundalliance.com.
What the charts say
The following charts reveal some of the report’s highlights regarding underground utility damage: