You've called 811, you've determined and waited the required amount of time in your state, and you’re sure all buried utility lines on your job site have been located and marked. Now you can use your mechanized equipment to begin excavating, right?
Not so fast. Buried power lines and other facilities can be easily damaged and are dangerous to contact. Before you can safely cross or work close to an underground utility line with power digging equipment, you must see the line with your own eyes:
- First, use only hand tools like shovels or other non-intrusive methods to expose the line. The specified distance the law requires for hand digging on either side of an underground facility varies from state to state. Contact your state's 811 to determine the exact location and depth before you begin.
- Then, and only then, can you begin power digging. Be sure to work with a spotter whose only job is to keep mechanized digging equipment away from buried facilities.
Take care to prevent damage by using a rounded or blunt-edged shovel and be sure you use a fiberglass shovel when digging around buried electrical lines. Sharp tools like pickaxes, mattocks, pry bars or pointed spades may gouge or puncture lines.
Start your digging off to the side of the marked utility line. Use a gentle, prying motion to break away soil as you approach the line laterally. Never pry against a utility line to remove soil, stab at the soil or stomp on the shovel with both feet.
Even a slight gouge, scrape or dent to a utility line conduit or its coating may interrupt service or cause a hazard. Protect all exposed utility lines and check them regularly for damage. Before you backfill, check them again. If you contact an underground power line or natural gas pipeline, report it to Duke Energy so our crews can inspect the line and make the necessary repairs.
Always wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and take care to prevent muscle strain and fatigue. Don’t twist your torso to move the dirt; instead, move your feet to turn your entire body. Alternate shoveling between your left and right sides, and take breaks to prevent fatigue.
Additional digging and overhead guidelines, case studies, instructional videos and training tools can all be found, at no charge to you, on Duke Energy’s e-SMARTworkers website.
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