When Preparing to Excavate, Avoid the Blame Game

Abraham Lincoln, an experienced outdoorsman in his early years, offered a valuable perspective on the wisdom of pre-planning:
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

April 9, 2024
Blog

Failing to Prepare Means Preparing to Fail

Abraham Lincoln, an experienced outdoorsman in his early years, offered a valuable perspective on the wisdom of pre-planning:

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

 

Contractors know that long before the first piece of heavy equipment comes anywhere near an excavation site, there’s a standard list of required and recommended steps to minimize the chances of underground utility infrastructure strikes — with all the associated safety risks, as well as painful, expensive, and environmental repercussions. These preparations include calling 811, having the “known” utilities marked, performing EM and GPR surveys and off-site/off-line analysis, updating utility data, and hand digging and potholing to daylight “known” utilities.

It would be reassuring to know that doing everything right—responsibly following each of these steps in preparation for a dig—could guarantee an uneventful, safe excavation. Unfortunately, the data proves otherwise: Even if you spend significant time and resources adhering to legislation, implementing industry processes, and deploying existing state-of-the-art technology, you only reduce—but don’t eliminate—your chances of a utility strike.

In fact, every year there are still between 400,000 and 500,000 utility strikes reported in North America alone. And in reality, the numbers are estimated to be much higher.

Clearly, plenty of contractors and excavator crews are not strict about these steps, as astonishingly, the numbers are actually … rising: According to the Common Ground Alliance DIRT Report, three-year modeling from 2020-2022 reveals that damages per construction spending increased 12.35 percent, and damages per 1,000 transmissions increased 9.34 percent between 2021 and 2022.

Our question, then, is who in this process — or what ongoing dynamic — is to blame? More pragmatically, what can the construction industry do to reverse the trend and reach the ambitious Common Ground Alliance (CGA) goal of “50-in-5”, reducing utility strikes by 50% in 5 years?

 

Which root causes lead to most strikes?

According to the CGA’s DIRT report mentioned above, the leading—and avoidable—cause (24.8%) is the failure to notify 811 before initiating a dig. However, based on an industry stakeholders survey, 53% of accidents are not truly the excavators’ fault: they encounter unknown, unmarked, or mis-marked utility lines. It doesn’t matter if this is due to outdated utility data (which often happens, as reported here) or the failure of a local utility to update and report accurately when queried; blame who they will, excavators – and in fact, the entire construction ecosystem – have to deal with the ramifications.

Naturally, we can’t ignore human error, and the DIRT report includes a long list of subcategories. Some strike events simply involve sloppiness or naïve optimism that “it’s probably safe.” At the same time, it’s often a matter of deciding to move ahead, even when the aggregated data doesn’t yet paint a complete picture.

The bottom line is clear: The more layers of high-quality protection you can add and rely on, the better your chances of avoiding a strike. And while most data sources and technologies essentially assess the dig from above ground (before any excavation is carried out) one approach actually gets “down and dirty,” guiding you in real-time, below ground, where and when the action happens.

 

Eyes on the Ground? Try Eyes IN the Ground

With RodRadar’s Live Dig Radar® (LDR) digging bucket, a digging crew gets real-time alerts of buried infrastructure before they hit it—especially when it’s least expected because none of the sources we’ve been discussing have supplied indications.

Here’s how it works: The LDR sensing technology, integrated into a digging bucket called the LDR Excavate™, detects underground utilities and communicates real-time alerts to the operator while digging to avoid inadvertent strikes.

The bucket, which can be easily added to any excavator, is outfitted with an advanced Ground-Penetrating Radar (GPR) sensor that provides immediate feedback to the operator as it sifts through the earth. It identifies the presence, position, and depth of underground utilities, without the need for expert offline/offsite data interpretation.

For example, as a result of an 811 process you may be aware of the presence of an underground fiber optic or gas line, but not precisely where and how deep it is. Or perhaps your own onsite detection tools can easily identify a metal pipeline but not plastic, PVC, or other materials. Often, in some soil conditions such as moist clay, utilities below a certain depth simply cannot be detected.

LDR acts as your subterranean vision as it protects personnel and project schedules, reduces recovery expenses, and safeguards the integrity of your business reputation. In the critical moments of a construction job, the LDR Excavate™ emerges as an essential must-have asset, offering definitive guidance needed for successful project completion.

Think of this innovative approach as your last line of defense, an excavation work-tool mitigating the risk of flawed data. It provides you with an extra layer of safety, protecting you when you did all the right things, but the available utility data you retrieved from 811, local utilities, your customer, or your own surveying tools (with their inherent limitations) isn’t complete and practically unreliable.

 

In a flawed ecosystem, get all the help you can get!

As it is, construction projects involve many challenges and uncertainties. It’s just a painful reality for the excavation sector: Even with all the best intent, we can never assume we know what’s underground. Some contractors play by the rules to try to figure it out, while others take their chances.

But even when it’s not your fault, blaming processes, a third party, or the technology you deployed still leaves you suffering the consequences: delays, clean-up costs, harm to workers or residents, reputational damage, environmental impact, and more (see our blog on direct/indirect costs here). RodRadar’s Live Dig Radar provides the extra layer of protection that shifts dig safety and predictability from the hopeful/theoretical to the pragmatic.

 

Contact us to learn more.

Contact us

59 Derekh HaRimonim St, Rinatya 7316500, Israel
T. +972.3.641.9302 E. info@rodradar.com

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