The latest data now suggests that a worker is injured once a minute in digging accidents. If you have any experience as a construction worker at all, you are already aware of the dangers that construction workers are exposed to on a regular basis while digging. Only if you work in construction, can you truly appreciate the risks and sacrifices that must be made to perform the jobs of those on work sites and those not directly exposed to those dangers don’t place nearly enough value on the safety of those who are putting their bodies and lives at risk. Even if you take every precaution you have been instructed to, it is still possible for things to go incredibly wrong at only a moment’s notice, so we’ve provided these additional tips in hope that they might prevent an accident or save a life.
Understanding the Data Can Alert You to Danger
Even the most experienced workers find themselves involved in an accident at one point in time and the moment that you feel safest is often when you are most vulnerable. You shouldn’t be in a constant state of paranoia, but be aware of the locations and situations in which many construction workers are harmed so that you can be wary and ready to avoid danger. When digging or working near utilities, accidents commonly occur around these hazards.
- Electrical transformers, conduits or wires. Striking a power line is a common cause of injury when digging and you may be shocked to find that this type of accident usually results from inaccurate ground markings. Don’t immediately trust that utility markings are correct and proceed carefully whenever breaking the ground or knowingly performing work near a live power source.
- Gas lines. Accidents involving gas lines can have the potential to reach a level of devastation on the level of stories the local news likes to sensationalize. Minor injuries can occur as well if a gas line has been breached and begins to leak, exposing workers to the gas through inhalation. At the first sign of a gas leak, you and your fellow workers should vacate the area immediately and contact the gas company responsible for the lines in the area.
- Manholes, sewer drains and cleanouts. Slip, trip and fall injuries are one of the most common forms of harm on construction sites because it only takes one moment to lose track of your surroundings and take a step in the wrong direction. The best practice is to mark off potential trip and fall hazards and put up physical barriers in order to prevent workers from tripping or falling into an open hole.
- Underground storage tanks, fill ports and vent pipes. Digging into an underground fuel or power source can have disastrous consequences and these hazards are often unmarked during an initial survey by utility companies. You will normally need to perform a visual assessment of the site in order to locate the possible locations of underground tanks and pipes which have not been identified.
How to Identify Hazards Prior to Digging
It is the law across the entire United States that the utility companies be informed prior to any digging so that they may perform an assessment of the area and lay down identifiers to indicate the location of their lines. They may place flags or paint the ground to indicate where their lines are located but these lines have proven to be approximations according to recent data. You should treat these markings as caution signs and look for additional signs that a hazard is present in the immediate vicinity of the flags and paint.
- Obtain as much data possible through blueprints, records of building changes over time and aerial surveys of the area to identify possible hazards. Utility lines and places where lines may have been altered or moved could be identified in these records.
- Assess the site in person while looking for potential evidence that indicates the present of hazards. Use the features that are above the ground to reveal potential safety hazards such as electrical boxes, fire hydrants, gas meters and other devices which may provide clues. If there is a cable or electric box above ground then you know that lines must lead to the device.
- Walk the site with others who know what they are looking for. It is always advisable to conduct your walk with others so that they can identify hazards you may have missed. Bringing in experts who are aware of what to look for will increase the odds that you identify and avoid all potential hazards.
- Contract the services of a private geophysical investigation company if you are working on private property and unsure of where utility lines may be located. Utility companies don’t provide much data on where their lines are located on private property other than where they enter and exit the property. The rest of the information is assumed to be located in the building blueprints and records but this information may not be up to date. Rather than take chances, it may be better to allow a private firm to assess the property, often using a form of radar that can locate hazards such as non-metallic objects, voids beneath the ground that suggest utility lines or storage tanks and piping and wires.
Steps to Take Just Before Breaking Ground
Human error is the driving factor in most of the injuries that result from digging. Lines are not marked properly. Someone misses an obvious indicator of a hazard. The firm you’ve hired to perform a geophysical assessment fails to identify the location of a gas line. You cannot simply proceed without caution even if you’ve done your homework and feel you’ve covered your bases. Prior to digging, make sure you take these final steps to ensure your safety.
- Look for physical disturbances in the ground that indicate someone else has performed work. This will alert you to possible changes in the environment that were not indicated in blueprints or were not discovered during previous assessments.
- Try not to use hand tools to assess the ground as these put you or others at risk. Air and water vacuum trucks allow workers to break up the ground in order to get a better look at what is beneath the soil before proceeding and are much safer than having workers break the dirt by hand. This technology is also less likely to cut any lines that it encounters, which reduces the need to repair broken lines.
- Mark out the area that you will be digging so that you can assess the locations of hazards and potential hazards in comparison to where you will be digging.
- Begin digging while exercising caution. Even if you have done everything right, you may be surprised so be prepared to react accordingly as your knowledge of the environment changes.
It may seem tedious and trivial to go to such lengths prior to breaking ground but these measures could save your life should they help you locate hazards you would have never been aware of otherwise. The rate in which construction workers are being injured in digging accidents, however, suggests the need for more patience and caution. It may result in additional costs and delays initially, but no cost is too great when your life is on the line.