Striking Out Doubt and Avoiding Line Strikes

When surveying an accumulation of incidents and injuries, an often contributing factor that presents itself is rushing to complete a job task. With the end goal in mind, safety and other proactive behaviors find themselves in solitude on the back burner of thought. Serving as system checks or safeguards, these factors remain useless if not properly implemented. 

In the construction industry, this is often found to be the case when it comes to ground disturbance or excavation. The majority of the applicable hazards are located underground; therefore, they are not easily identifiable. They include electrical lines, water lines, gas lines, and even pipelines, among others. Unplanned and unwanted contact can lead to disasters that include environmental catastrophes and, more importantly, death and loss of human life. Combatting hazardous outcomes associated with excavation have evolved over time. It takes a strong commitment to adhere to these safeguards while the temptation lures the individual in the opposite direction promising a quick and successful completion of the task at hand. 


Thinking about participating in a permitting process, for some, perpetuates significant frustration and displeasure, but it should be embraced as a crucial tool in working safely. The permitting process provides an avenue of defining what measures are safe and acceptable, as well as those that are not. 

When individuals follow each item of the permit, they stand to render the best chance in avoiding a hazardous outcome. If an excavation permit stipulates a specific depth for a future excavation, those performing the digging can be assured that the permit particulars have defined safe working depths. 

The permit also identifies supporting information needed to safely carry out the work. While many strive to circumvent those amendments, in reality, they are eliminating the safeguards. 


One of the most prominent permitting amendment features is the requirement of utilities notification. Those who conduct excavation activities must place the call and request a bundle of utilities to be identified, often marked or flagged, prior to the commencement of digging. This simple procedure shows the location and direction of utility lines potentially in the line of fire of where digging will occur.

While this task can typically add one to three days to the job, stellar pre-job planning can reduce this time period. On the other hand, not following the notification requirements could see an individual striking a line, and that potential three-day delay on the front side just turned into a longer delay with an accumulation of monetary penalties. Had the utility notification call been made, the line strike would have been prevented. If the line is not identified correctly and the excavating crew makes contact, that permit stipulation of utility notification serves as the absolute best insurance policy available. 

It is important to note that the level of line identification can fluctuate depending upon the work taking place. While in residential cases, the utilities identified typically are identified as electrical, water, gas, and fiber optic. Those performing excavation services on an oil and gas well site location would need to be concerned with potential lines of oil and gas. Regardless, making that call to have potential lines identified can eliminate the doubt of location and avoid undesirable contact. 

The level of incident and injury can also vary depending on the line contacted. Striking a water line can result in property damage and inconvenience, but contacting underground electrical service can result in electrocution and death. 

Proactive Behavior 

A little planning goes a long way. No major battle experienced victory without detailed planning. Companies and crews should take the time to collaborate and plan for success. The permitting process can be reviewed before engaging in the application. Management should seize the opportunity to identify all permit requirements and account for each in a fashion that drives success. 

Planning departments should take into consideration all aspects of the job location. Another tool that can play a huge role identifying hazards is additional eyes. Spotting personnel can assist excavation equipment and potentially identify obstacles that might not be specified in the permit itself. Individuals should plan for the unexpected. Although a certain line or pipe is specified to be at a specific depth, a spotting crew could possibly identify it closer to the surface as the excavator takes each pass in digging. 

Proactive behavior begins with a robust pre-job planning initiative. The challenge is twofold as it must be first initiated, and then it must be maintained throughout the entire work process. Increasing the level of proactive behavior increases the chances of a successful outcome. 

Nick Vaccaro is a freelance writer and photographer. Besides providing technical writing services, he is an HSE consultant in the oil and gas industry with nine years of experience. He also contributes to Louisiana Sportsman Magazine and Masonry Magazine. Nick has a BA in Photojournalism from Loyola University and resides in the New Orleans area. 210-240-7188


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