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Can you dig it? Call 811 before putting a shovel in the ground

Can you dig it? Call 811 before putting a shovel in the ground

A simple phone call could have averted a blaze last month that scorched a home in Berkeley, California and started a fire in a nearby van. Caused when a worker hit a gas line with a pick axe, the incident illustrates why homeowners or workers should call 811 to learn the location of underground utilities. Unfortunately, that’s a precaution many Americans ignore when planning projects that require a hole in the ground such as installing a mailbox, putting up a new fence or planting a tree.

In recognition of National Safe Digging Month in April, the Common Ground Alliance surveyed 624 homeowners nationwide and found that 48 percent of them who plan to dig on their properties this year will not call 811 first. An underground utility line is damaged every eight minutes by errant digging, according to CGA data.

“With millions of shovels entering the ground near billions of feet of unmarked underground utilities this year, we will continue to see damages occur every few minutes, leading to inconvenient outages, and in worst-case scenarios bodily harm, not just for the do-it-yourselfers, but for entire communities,” said CGA President Bob Kipp, in the news release.

Call 811 a few days before you plan to start the project. The call center will arrange for a professional locator to come mark the approximate location of underground utility lines with spray paint or flags. Once a site has been accurately marked, it is safe to begin digging around the marked areas. Color-coded flags are used to indicate what’s below the ground, they include:

  • Red: Electric
  • Orange: Communications, telephone/CATV
  • Blue: Potable water
  • Green: Sewer/Drainage
  • Yellow: Gas/Petroleum pipe line
  • Purple: Reclaimed water
  • White: Pre-marks site of intended excavation

For state-by-state information including local laws and phone numbers, visit the website Call 811. Here are more tips from Common Ground.

  • Plan ahead. Call on Monday or Tuesday for work planned for an upcoming weekend, providing ample time for the approximate location of lines to be marked.
  • Consider moving the location of your project if it is near utility line markings.
  • If a contractor has been hired, confirm that a call to 811 has been made. Don’t allow work to begin if the lines aren’t marked.
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