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Everyone plays a role in preventing damages to underground utility infrastructure. AEM continues to support the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) and asks its members to help spread awareness of the need to call 811 before any ground-engaging projects, personally or professionally. 

CGA works “to reduce damages to the underground infrastructure—ensuring public safety, environmental protection, and the integrity of services by promoting effective damage prevention practices.” According to CGA, every few minutes an underground utility line is damaged because someone decided to dig without properly marking and locating the facility. 

“Even though 811 Day is recognized on Aug. 11 (8/11) each year, the other 364 days are just as important to understand the process and associated risk with digging,” said AEM Senior Director of Utility John Somers. 

The depth of utility lines can vary for several reasons: erosion, previous digging projects and uneven surfaces. Even if only digging down a few inches, the potential to strike an underground utility line exists. Buried facilities need to be properly marked and appropriate digging and excavation methods need to be used to prevent damages. 

It’s not only large excavation projects, like expanding a road or developing a new office complex, that need to follow the one-call process. Installing a mailbox, building a deck, planting a tree and laying a patio are just some examples of digging projects that need a call to 811 before starting. 

When homeowners and contractors call 811, they are connected to the local one-call center, which notifies the appropriate utility companies of their intent to dig. If utilities are present in the desired digging area, professional locators then arrive at the digging site to mark the approximate locations of underground lines with flags, spray paint or both. 

The importance of using the 811 system cannot be overstated, said James Wingate, executive director of USA North 811, a nonprofit association of 1,500 utility owners that service central and northern California, as well as the entire state of Nevada. 

“There’s a spaghetti bowl of lines buried underground,” continued Wingate. “Digging blind without calling 811 first not only puts the crew digging at risk of severe injury, but also puts the surrounding community at risk of losing essential public service or worse.” 

According to Wingate, in the area serviced by USA North 811, a significant portion of damaged lines (roughly 40%) occur when there is no 811 ticket for the job. 

“It’s not just folks who don’t know about 811,” he added. “A lot of the damages we see are from experienced excavators who know about the 811 processes. At the end of the day, it’s important to do the right thing and make the call to 811.” 

Texas 811, a Richardson, Texas-based non-profit organization committed to protecting billions of dollars of underground utilities and the people around them by notifying utility members of someone's intent to dig, encourages AEM members to reach out to regional damage prevention councils in their sales/service territories and support ongoing outreach efforts by participating in excavation safety festivals featuring their equipment. 

As an example, the Damage Prevention Council of Texas routinely partners with equipment dealers and rental centers to provide equipment and demonstrations at regional excavation safety festivals, further spreading the message of the importance of knowing where underground utilities are located before digging. 

With all that being said, AEM is encouraging safe digging practices among its member companies, their employees and their customers. In addition, the association works diligently to promote 811 in a variety of different ways, including: 

  • AEM Safety materials provide information on how to use “Call 811” 
  • AEM member companies promote “Call 811” on their websites and through advertisement sliders and editorials 
  • Manufacturers place “Call 811” signage on their equipment 
  • Manufacturers post “811 Know What’s Below” stickers on their equipment 
  • References and instructions to “Call 811” are printed in their equipment operator’s manuals 
  • “Call 811” is mentioned in every safety video that involves breaking ground 
  • “Call 811” is mentioned in safety toolbox talks 
  • “Call 811” events are posted on social media outlets 
  • Attending and presenting as industry experts at 811 events 
  • Attending and presenting as industry stakeholders at CGA conferences 
  • Participating in the CGA Best Practices committee 
  • Using CGA’s website and marketing materials 

AEM and its members are committed to safety, and AEM assists manufacturers and the off-road equipment industry in fostering safety best practices through the association’s extensive array of safety manuals, videos and related training materials. 

In addition, the latest equipment and technology for the utility and construction industries will be on display at The Utility Expo, set for Sept. 28-30 in Louisville, Kentucky.  

For more information, be sure to reach out to AEM’s John Somers at [email protected]

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