April is National Safe Digging Month, reminding all contractors and homeowners to call 811 at least three business days before starting a digging project to ensure that all underground utility lines are properly marked and precautions are taken to ensure safety and damage prevention. Whether you are in Pennsylvania or another state, 811 is the nationally recognized number for reporting your planned digging project. According to Pennsylvania 811, “every six minutes an underground utility line is damaged because someone decided to dig without first dialing 8-1-1.” Hitting a single utility line can cause severe bodily injury as well as repair costs and power outages. So whether you’re planning to simply install a new fence or you’re about to begin a major public construction project, Call Before You Dig!
Like most states, Pennsylvania has what is known as the Underground Utility Line Protection Act, also known as the PA One Call Act. PA One Call was enacted “[t]o protect the public health and safety by preventing excavation or demolition work from damaging underground lines used in providing electricity, communication, gas, propane, oil delivery, oil product delivery, sewage, water or other service; imposing duties upon the providers of such service, recorders of deeds, and persons and other entities preparing drawings or performing excavation or demolition work; and prescribing penalties.” 73 P.S. § 176, et seq.
Who Should Use PA One Call?
All facility owners, designers, excavators and project owners should use the PA One Call System. Each of these terms is defined by the PA One Call Act and includes homeowners.
Facility Owners are the public utility or agency, political subdivision, municipality, authority, rural electric cooperative, or other person or entity which owns or operates a line. 73 P.S. § 176.
Designers are “any architect, engineer, or other person who or which prepares a drawing for a construction or other project which requires excavation or demolition work.” Id.
Excavators are any persons who perform excavation or demolition work. Id. This includes homeowners who perform their own excavation work.
Lastly, Project Owners are any persons who engage an excavator for construction or any other project which requires excavation or demolition work. This could be a public or private person or entity. Id.
Each of these individuals has certain duties prescribed under the PA One Call Act. We’ll cover some of the most common duties below.
What I Need To Know:
Under the PA One Call Act, all facility owners are required to be a member of the One Call System. As part of their membership, they are required to identify the names of counties and municipalities, including street names where their lines are located. Facilities located in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown and Erie are also required to identify the municipality wards.
Also, before commencing excavation, all contractors, including subcontractors, are required to call the PA One Call System to request the location and type of facilities lines near the project location. The call is required to be made no less than 3 business days but no more than 10 business days before beginning excavation. The contractor/excavator needs to be prepared to identify a number of important details regarding the project:
- Identity of the caller and his or her phone number;
- The name of the company doing the excavating and its address;
- The county and municipality of the work site, and
- A detailed description of the work site.
This detailed description should include:
- A street name and exact address of where the work is to performed;
- The nearest and second nearest intersections;
- The type of work being done, type of surface being excavated (lawn, berm, sidewalk, public/private property, etc.);
- The approximate depth and extent of excavation, method for excavation (auger, backfilling, boring, digging, hand digging, etc.),
- Identification of the project owner, and
- The precise worksite location information.
Identification of the location for the excavation is crucial to safe digging. NOTE: if an excavator/contractor cannot provide the exact site information, the PA One Call Act requires the excavator to schedule a pre-construction meeting with the facility owner or mark the site in white.
After the caller provides the above information to a PA One Call Customer Service Representative, a “ticket” is generated to notify all facility owners in the area. The facility owner will then review the ticket and determine if the worksite is near any existing underground facilities. If underground facilities are nearby, the facility owner will send a person to the worksite to locate and mark its facilities in the excavation site described on the ticket.
The Common Ground Alliance establishes a uniform color code system for markings (i.e., red for electric, yellow for gas, etc.). Markings can be in paint, flags, whiskers or any combinations of the three.
The PA One Call System also provides the date on which excavation can commence. This date is known as the “lawful start date” and is referenced on the ticket. The lawful start date will be at least 3 business days, but not more than 10 business days after the ticket is called in by the excavator.
All excavators are required under the PA One Call Act to employ “prudent digging techniques” within 18 inches of either side of a mark, referred to as the tolerance zone. Prudent digging techniques may include hand dug test holes and/or hand digging within the tolerance zone.
Once the excavation begins, it is the excavator’s responsibility to protect and preserve the marks. The excavator should never pile brush or other soilage on the marks. If the marks become faded or lost, the excavator is to call PA One Call and request an update to have the marks replaced. Lastly, where an excavator removes equipment and vacates a jobsite for longer than two business days, the excavator is required to notify PA One Call so that the marks may be updated or further preserved.
If damage occurs, it is the responsibility of the excavator to notify the facility owner. This can be done by calling PA One Call, which will generate a damage ticket and notify the correct facility owner.
Other Duties of the Designer and Project Owner
Not every construction project will involve a designer. Often these individuals are engaged for larger, more complex projects. Where a designer is involved, he or she is required to request facility information from PA One Call not less than 10 nor more than 90 business days before a final design is to be completed. Upon the request of any facility owner, the designer should forward a copy of the project plan. In the event the plan contains sensitive or proprietary information, the Act requires that the designer negotiate with the facility owner to provide the necessary information.
Project Owners generally have a lesser role; however, the Act does require project owners to utilize and pay for Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) where the project is large or complex costing $400,000.00 or more, whenever practicable. It also requires project owners to submit the SUE data to the PA One Call System. Although use of a representative is permissible, project owners are encouraged to participate in all pre-construction and design meetings.
For more information on the PA One Call System or your rights and responsibilities, visit call811.com, or call 8-1-1. And remember, Call Before You Dig!