You’ve called 811 and all buried utility lines on your job site have been located and marked. Now your power-digging work can begin, right?
Not so fast. Before you can safely cross or work close to an underground utility line, you must first hand dig to expose the line and verify its exact location and depth. In Pennsylvania, power digging is not allowed within 18" on either side of the marked location of buried utilities; hand digging or other nonintrusive methods are required within this zone.
Whenever you hand dig near buried utility lines, take care to prevent damage:
- Use a rounded or blunt-edged shovel. 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 utility laterally.
- Never pry against a utility line to remove soil, stab at the soil, or stomp on the shovel with both feet.
Always wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) and take care to prevent muscle strain. Don’t twist your torso to move the dirt; move your feet to turn your entire body. Alternate shoveling between your left and right sides, and take breaks to prevent fatigue.
Even a slight gouge, scrape, or dent to a utility conduit or its coating may cause a break or leak in the future. Protect all exposed utility lines and check them regularly for damage. Before you backfill, check them again. Report any damage to PECO so crews can inspect the line and make the necessary repairs.
Additional digging guidelines, case studies, instructional videos, and training tools can all be found, at no charge to you, on PECO’s e-SMARTworkers website.
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