Safety on the job site can be an issue underground and overhead. According to the most recent Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) report from Common Ground Alliance, released in September 2023, there were 213,792 utility damage events reported in 2022.
A regression analysis of data from 2020 to 2022 indicates that damages have remained steady or are possibly increasing if adjustments are made for economic factors. For example, predictive metrics such as damages per unit of construction indicate a spending increase of 12.35% and per one thousand 811 transmissions demonstrates a 9.34% increase between 2021 and 2022.
The top causes of nearly 76% of all damages have been consistent from year to year. Causes of these damage reports were assigned to:
- Lack of maintenance (including pothole fills)
- Inability to locate issues due to outdated or incorrect maps
- Failure to call 811 before digging
Failure to notify continues to be the most prevalent cause year after year, accounting for 25% of damages in 2022. Professional contractors committed 77% of all no-call damages. Of those, landscaping/fencing and water/sewer contractors topped the list last year.
Potential accompanying issues identified by the report include inaccurate maps, faulty tracer wire and abandoned facilities. All the issues combined can result in utility service interruptions, work delays and damage to equipment.
For the first time, excavation and construction was the leading source of damage reports, with telecommunication work being the main reason, followed by water, natural gas, sewer and electrical work.
DIRT’s goal is to reduce damages by 50% over the next five years. It’s a tall order—particularly as excavation is expected to increase as a result of federal infrastructure spending, and considering the complex and sometimes crisscrossing underground infrastructure that includes electric and telecom cable, gas, sewer and water pipes. Because of these networks of underground hazards, digital documentation has become a critical factor in safe digging.
The latest utility locating devices can automatically acquire data in real time with centimeter-grade accuracy. At the same time, they map, log and label each data point in real time, creating a digital record that can be shared instantly on the cloud.
“This data-mapping technology is critical for the future of underground construction and utility inspection [because] it enables operators to streamline data sharing and access shared information quickly,” said Chris Thompson, product manager for Ditch Witch, Perry, Okla.
Utility locating devices and integrated data mapping, along with advances in equipment, are expected to contribute to diminishing damage and reducing interruptions in utility service by more accurately identifying buried infrastructure. Monthly reporting and near-miss data supplied by the Damage Prevention Institute will provide additional insight leading to analysis and shared accountability, in the hope of reducing damage incidents.
About The Author
Lori Lovely is an award-winning writer and editor in central Indiana. She writes on technical topics, heavy equipment, automotive, motorsports, energy, water and wastewater, animals, real estate, home improvement, gardening and more. Reach her at: [email protected]