Utility safety: Report confirms importance of calling 811 before digging

Safety equipment: Common Ground Alliance (CGA), the stakeholder-run organization dedicated to protecting underground utility lines and the people who dig near them, announced findings from its comprehensive 2014 Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) Report.

The report, which analyzes the 2014 data submitted anonymously and voluntarily by facility operators, utility locate companies, one call centers, contractors and regulators, confirmed again the importance of making a free call to 811 to reach a local one call center as the simplest and easiest way to reduce excavation-related damage to underground facilities. According to the report, when an excavator notifies a one call center before digging, damage can be avoided more than 99 percent of the time.

"The 2014 DIRT Report's enduring indication ­ that calling 811 before digging is the most important precaution that professionals and homeowners can take before digging ­ could not be clearer after five years of consistent results," said Bob Kipp, CGA president. "This year's report points to several concrete areas that damage prevention advocates can target to further decrease the frequency of events involving underground facilities, of which fair and balanced enforcement can play a critical role."

The DIRT Report once again employed a linear regression model to estimate the total underground facility damage events in the United States in 2014 based on the 16 states found to have a substantial amount of damages reported as a result of legislative requirements, a high level of stakeholder reporting and/or an entity such as a Public Service Commission, Public Utility Commission or one call center with a Virtual Private Dirt that submits data to DIRT.

Construction spending was up 5.2 percent in 2014 and U.S. housing starts were up 6 percent. CGA's Damage Reporting and Evaluation Committee estimates that damages were up only 4.2 percent, to approximately 349,000, which suggests continuing improvement in damage prevention efforts in 2014.

Also pointing to excavation activity outpacing damages last year is the measurement of damages per 1,000 one call center transmissions to member facility operators. The rate of damages per 1,000 transmissions was 1.60 in 2014, compared to 2.07 in 2013. The decrease in the 2014 damage ratio can be explained in part by an 8 percent increase in the number of incoming locate requests to one call centers and a greater than 35 percent increase in outgoing transmissions to member facilities, indicating that more 811 requests are being made and more facility operators are active participants in one call systems.

The 2014 DIRT Report again made regional comparisons of data by the nine U.S. census divisions and Canada. This geographical analysis allows stakeholders to implement localized damage prevention measures, and allows DIRT data to be compared to other government and published statistics reported by census division. The 2014 DIRT Report confirmed the relationship between higher 811 awareness and lower incidence of "no notification made" events, and vice versa, in the census divisions.

For the first time in 2014, the DIRT Report analyzed the effect of enforcement activity on damage rates by examining the damage rate per 1,000 transmissions for the 16 substantial reporting states, of which 12 have active enforcement of damage prevention laws overseen by public utility commissions while four do not. The states with active enforcement have a combined damage rate of 1.65, while those without enforcement have a 2.41 rate. Although many factors affect a state's damage rate, the 2014 DIRT Report analysis indicates that active enforcement has a positive impact on damage rates.

76 percent of all events submitted for 2014 included root cause data (an increase of 3 percent from 2013), and the top root cause categories were identified as follows:

• Excavation practices not sufficient: 50 percent
• Notification not made: 25 percent
• Locating practices not sufficient: 17 percent

Voluntary submissions to the 2014 DIRT Report by CGA's 16 stakeholder groups increased by nearly 50,000 records, and the Data Quality Index for the 2014 report, which measures the completeness of event data submitted, also increased from 2013, making the resulting analysis the most complete picture of underground damages and their root causes yet.

"CGA's Data Reporting and Evaluation Committee made a concerted effort to not only make the DIRT website easy to use, but also to promote an increase in quality submissions from existing and new users, making the 2014 Report the strongest data set to-date," said Jemmie Wang, leader of the CGA Data Reporting and Evaluation Committee's Annual Report Task Team. "The data voluntarily submitted by damage prevention stakeholders makes it possible each year for CGA to issue the annual DIRT Report, which provides invaluable insights into how industry partners can best direct education and outreach to continue to reduce the rate of damages across the country."

The complete DIRT Annual Report for 2014 is available for download at http://commongroundalliance.com/media-reports/dirt-report-2014, and stakeholders interested in submitting data or establishing a Virtual Private Dirt account should visit the DIRT site at www.cga-dirt.com.

About CGA
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 leading organization in an effort to reduce damages to underground facilities in North America through shared responsibility among all stakeholders.

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