Are You Keeping Your Excavation Site Safe?


Safety is by far the most important factor on a construction site and anyone who tells you different is wrong. Without safety, you run the risk of major injuries, death and even something that would scare the project manager, delays. Not only that but if you don’t prioritise safety on-site you run the risk of putting those surrounding the project in danger such as employees, machine operators and the surrounding community.

In Australia, we pride ourselves on our high safety standards being some of the best in the world with the vast majority of the construction industry following them. Sure you find the odd dodgy operator that will cut corners but they’re becoming rarer. This is in part due to the fines and bans inflicted on business caught breaking the law, but it’s also a cultural change. At the end of the day, everyone wants to go home to their families safe.

When we’re talking about safety we’re not just talking about hard hats and steel caps, we’re talking about the safe operation of machinery, use of high-quality materials and completing pre-start checks and planning for the project. In the case of excavating, it’s crucial to ensure the excavation ground is free of subsurface utilities and ensuring the location of them is known and marked.

There is one name that is synonymous with underground utilities in Australia - Dial Before You Dig. Their message is clear. Before starting any excavation work you need to find out what's beneath the surface before you break ground. Completing this necessary research prevents unnecessary damage from affecting the work on-site and the surrounding neighbourhood. No one wants to be the reason three street blocks lost power on a Friday afternoon or the one that bursts the water main. To avoid these situations here are 3 steps to prevent damage to underground assets.

1. Organise Your Pre Project Preparation

No matter if you’re a seasoned excavator operator or working on your first excavation project, your first action on any excavation project should be to locate any and all underground assets including electrical, optic fibre, communications, gas, water and sewage. Your starting point should always be Dial Before You Dig, they have the relevant maps and information you need to identify any underground assets.

Retrieving this information needs to be done before construction is set to start as it can take up to 48 hours for the site plans to come back to you. Once the site plans and information are supplied to you, they need to be studied thoroughly especially if there high risk services that have special requirements.

The DBYD supplied plans are an indication of services in the vicinity, they won’t tell you exactly where they are. Engaging a DBYD Certified Locator will help you identify whether they are in your work area and where to start potholing. Engaging a Certified Locator is also a requirement for some of the major utilities if you are digging in the vicinity of their services.

2. Prove your Onsite Service Locations

If you’ve identified assets within your excavation area, knowing their exact location ensures you’re not running the risk of accidentally hitting them. The only way you can know the exact location of a buried service is to physically expose it and identify it. This normally referred to as ‘potholing’ or ‘validating’. The need to pothole is included in the WHS codes of practice for excavation, it is also a requirement for many of the utilities and not doing so may be deemed as negligence if an accident occurs. Some utilities do not allow potholing by others because of the safety risk – so always check first if it is allowed.

The most common form of potholing is by vacuum excavation which if done correctly is efficient and safe. Another form of potholing by is by hand which can be dangerous if not done correctly. Advice on potholing can be found in the DBYD Best Practice Guide for preventing damage to underground services. This is available online here.

Conducting potholing or electronic locating without appropriate training, or without hiring a Certified Locator can put everyone on-site at risk and is a dangerous gamble to try and save money. Stop putting your site at risk and find your closest Certified Locator here.

3. Prioritise On The Job Safety

Once you’re sure your excavating project won’t come into contact with underground assets and you’ve created an action plan for the small chance you may come in contact with underground utilities, it’s time for you to get to work. It’s integral to the safety of your excavation site and everyone working on it that you have planned the excavation according to the information you have garnered from the site plans, electrical and physical investigations. From here you need to equip your workers, machine operators and all site personnel with this information before work begins.

Having protective measures in place is the responsibility of the excavating contractor or the project manager, this not only means ensuring not to make contact with underground assets but also protecting them if they are exposed during work. This includes erecting barriers and/or marking the location of exposed infrastructure. This ensures you’re keeping both your workers, neighbours and the utilities safe.

To find out more about how you can keep your excavation site safe head to the Dial Before You Dig website where you’ll find all the safety information you need to excavate safely. Alternately DBYD Certification conducts utility damage prevention training for Site Managers, HSE Managers, Supervisors and Leading Hands. Click here to find out more about the Pre-Excavation Management Course.

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