AP NEWS

Excavators get safety training

April 11, 2019

Juan Flores had kind of a tough day at work Wednesday.

He was overcome by natural gas.

No, not really. The Fort Wayne concrete worker just had to pretend that happened during a demonstration of what can occur if excavators don’t heed a long-standing warning from utility companies: “Call 811 before you dig.”

Or, as Darby Reagan Miller, underground plant protection manager for the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission, put it: “Call 811 now : or 911 later.”

Sponsored by the IURC, the demonstration of dig-safety precautions took place during a regional training session at the Allen County Fairgrounds. Attended by more than 160 members of the excavation industry, the training aimed to improve worker and community safety, Miller said.

Last year, according to the IURC, 2,056 utility lines in Indiana : including133 in Allen County :  were damaged by strikes. The county’s number has been steadily dropping : from 174 in 2016 and 158 in 2017.

About 900 of the Indiana lines that were struck carried natural gas, and 28% occurred because the person digging failed to call 811, according to the IURC.

The training stressed that 811 needs to be called two full business days before an excavation and noted that requests can also be made at www.811NOW.com.

Trainers said it’s also important to inspect the site visually even before the call is made. Once the locations of any pipes or wires are marked, no digging should occur closer than 2 feet from any marked location, trainers said.

Failure to follow proper procedures risks not only injury or death to workers danger to residents, it’s also against the law, Miller said. Fines of up to $10,000 can be levied, and a violator must pay for repairs, he said.   

Professional excavators generally know and follow the rules, Miller said. But many homeowners engaging in digging projects don’t, he said.

And, he added, homeowners or tradespeople sometimes don’t realize what they’re doing requires a call.

Planting a tree or shrub, digging a post to install a mailbox or even dropping 18-inch stakes for a bounce house all count as excavation, he said.

The demonstration stressed that hitting a utility line requires an emergency response. After the backhoe operator hit the “line” and called 911, a sheriff’s car, fire engine, ambulance and utility work truck all pulled up to the site.

Flour, simulating the natural gas, billowed from the ground, while Flores lie on the ground, “unconscious” from the effects of the gas. He had to be dragged to the ambulance.

During the simulation, he was serving as a spotter for the backhoe operator but turned his back and walked away from the dig site when his cellphone rang.

Flores, 35,  said he’d never been on a job when a line was struck.

“This was a little scary, especially when they were dragging me,” he said. “I was in the wrong because I was distracted by the phone.”

rsalter@jg.net