With the arrival of spring, many Californians are thinking of starting projects to make their outdoor spaces more livable, and many of these projects will require digging. To help ensure these projects can proceed safely, and without disruptions to essential utility services that we all depend on to be able to stay connected during the ongoing pandemic, April is recognized as National Safe Digging Month.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) and more than 1,000 other utilities support this nationwide public safety initiative to supported by to raise awareness about the importance of calling 811 to have underground utility lines marked in advance of any digging project.
Throughout the pandemic, many homeowners are using their extra time at home to complete projects that require digging, according to a recent national survey conducted by the Common Ground Alliance (CGA). In fact, the survey shows that one in five homeowners (20 percent) have been more likely to do a DIY home improvement involving digging since the pandemic began – particularly gardening projects, and 56 percent of homeowners who are planning to plant a tree or shrub this year said they were more likely to dig while having extra time at home. The most popular planned projects cited among surveyed homeowners who plan to dig include:
- Planting a tree or shrub: 62 percent
- Building a fence: 37 percent
- Building a deck or patio: 32 percent
- Installing a mailbox: 20 percent
- Installing a pool: 6 percent
- Something else: 26 percent
Additionally, of the millions of homeowners who plan to dig this year for projects like gardening, building a fence or deck, installing a mailbox and more, nearly two in five (37 percent) will put themselves and their communities at risk by digging without contacting 811 beforehand to learn the approximate location of underground utilities.
“With millions of Californians relying on essential utility services as they work and learn from home, it is of the utmost importance that everyone take advantage of the free call to 811 prior to digging,” said Joe Forline, PG&E senior vice president of Gas Operations, in an April 8 company statement. “Our locate and mark crews are in the field every day helping to ensure digging projects of all sizes can proceed safely, without risk to life, health or property. Whether your project is large or small, from repaving a driveway to installing a fencepost, calling 811 three working days before excavating to have the locations of underground gas or electric lines marked will help keep you, your family and your neighbors safe and help you avoid potentially costly repairs.”
According to the Common Ground Alliance’s damage information reporting tool, an underground utility line is damaged every nine minutes in the United States. This adds up to more than 200,000 preventable hits to underground utility lines nationwide annually. PG&E is urging customers to help prevent dig-ins by placing a toll-free call to 811 or an online request to have gas and electric lines marked free of charge three working days before the project begins.
In 2020, there were over 1,400 third-party dig-ins on PG&E’s underground infrastructure across Northern and Central California.
Of the over 1,400 dig-ins, nearly 800 resulted from not using 811 to have gas and electric lines marked in advance.
Of the third-party (customers or construction crews) dig-ins to PG&E’s lines in 2020, residential dig-ins accounted for 31 percent.
In 91 percent of residential dig-ins, 811 was not called in advance.
811 is a designated toll-free number for homeowners and professional excavators and is serviced by regional offices. Operators answering calls and emails will dispatch all necessary utilities to properly mark underground utility lines with paint or flags. Underground Service Alert of Northern/Central California and Nevada (USA North) is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and will provide Spanish and other translation services.
PG&E Safe Digging Tips
Mark project area in white: Identify the digging location by drawing a box around the area using white paint, white stakes, white flags, white chalk or even white baking flour.
Call 811 or go online for a USA ticket three working days before digging: Be prepared to provide the address and general location of the project, project start date and type of digging activity. PG&E and other utilities will identify underground facilities in the area for free.
Dig safely: Use hand tools when digging within 24 in. of the outside edge of underground utility lines. Leave utility flags, stakes or paint marks in place until the project is finished. Backfill and compact the soil.
Mind the lines: If the utility line is visible, dig in parallel with the utility line and use all precautions when removing the soil from around the utility line.
Be aware of signs of a natural gas leak: Smell for a “rotten egg” odor, listen for hissing, whistling or roaring sounds and look for dirt spraying into the air, bubbling in a pond or creek and dead/dying vegetation in an otherwise moist area.
PG&E urges customers to call 911 and then PG&E at 1-800-743-5000 if there’s a suspected gas leak. If an accidental dent, scrape or other damage is made to a gas pipeline, those nearby must leave immediately and alert others to avoid the area. Only when a safe distance away should anything that might create a spark such as cell phones, matches, garage door openers, vehicles, or yard equipment be used.
CGA is a member-driven association of nearly 1,700 individuals, organizations and sponsors in every facet of the underground utility industry. Established in 2000, CGA is committed to saving lives and preventing damage to North American underground infrastructure by promoting effective damage prevention practices. CGA has established itself as the preeminent source of damage prevention data and information in an effort to reduce damages to underground facilities in North America through shared responsibility among all stakeholders. For more information, visit CGA on the web at commongroundalliance.com.