Home & Safety Preparedness

Be Safe by Digging Safe

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Eventually, just about every property owner plans for renovations and home improvements. If you are planning a backyard project that involves digging, you should know that many state laws mandate the reporting of your excavation two to three days beforehand. Regardless of the location, utility lines may be as close as 18 inches below ground, and preventing breaks to these lines is paramount to public safety and the law.

If you do have a project on the way, many states provide free services to help prevent utility damage. If an outside company is doing the work, it is generally recommended that they call the appropriate utility companies, since they can easily provide the information necessary to obtain a permit.

Some states require property be pre-marked before calling the utility companies. Pre-marking involves using white markings to indicate the circumference of the intended excavation. Here are some pre-marking guidelines that you or your contractor should follow:

  • The name or logo of the company doing the work must be shown within the pre-marked area, which is defined by white posts, flags, or paint.
  • For marks done with paint: Solid lines, dashes, or dots may be used to outline the intended area.
  • Additional excavation outside the marked area will require another permit.
  • Oftentimes, companies that participate in a state program and own or care for utilities within your pre-marked area will mark their pipes accordingly. If privately owned utility companies exist in your area, you will be held accountable for contacting them.
  • Work that involves the entire property must be defined by marking the property perimeter to indicate that work will be done throughout.
  • Neglecting to pre-mark an area may result in jeopardizing your permit and/or a civil penalty.

Soil erosion, grading, and other environmental factors can mean that old measure-ments are no longer accurate. Some state laws require non-mechanical digging be used for sites that come within 18 inches of a marked utility. Dial 911 immediately if a line is damaged, and if there is a possibility of risking public health or safety. Next, you must notify the company whose line was damaged. Do not try to repair the line yourself. It is a good idea to be prepared for an accident by learning the safety procedures of relevant utility companies before your project begins.

If you are considering a digging project for some time in the future, you can contact utility companies directly to determine what obstacles may be in your area. Utility companies will often provide maps and/or drawings, or even arrange meetings to help lay out your planned excavation. There are many services available to assist you with your renovating and digging projects. Utilizing them fully may not only be the law, but will also help ensure the continued safety of your family, neighbors, and community.


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