It finally feels like spring and many of us are spending more time outdoors. That means we’ll also be focusing on new ways to spruce up our landscape and even our homes.
Did you know that whether you're planning an excavation as part of a landscaping project (planting a bush or tree) or an addition to your home (building a deck or fence), it’s important – and legally required – to contact the state’s official one-call notification service before you start to dig?
According to NIPSCO, the highest safety risk to underground natural gas utilities across the county – including Indiana – continues to be damage caused by those who dig into a line when underground lines are not marked. So, in order to avoid property damage, personal injury and possible fines, anyone planning to excavate is now required to call 811 at least two full working days before work begins and have underground utility lines marked.
“One simple toll-free call to 811 before digging can mean the difference between saving a life and causing serious injury or worse,” Doug Dale, executive director overseeing NIPSCO’s damage prevention and pipeline safety, said. “That’s why it’s important to have your underground utility lines marked regardless of the size of the project or who is doing the digging work.”
Dale reports that there were approximately 400 cases of system damage caused when no markings were requested across NIPSCO’s service area last year.
“Nearly 60 percent of those were the result of contractors, while the remaining damages were caused by residents. The most common digging projects where damage occurred involved fences, landscaping and water and sewer projects. Planting shrubs and trees and installing decks and pools are also common digging projects,” he added.
“A key part of my role at NIPSCO is to ensure our natural gas pipelines remain safe from external threats, such as people digging into buried lines. Underground utilities, including natural gas lines, can be closer to the surface than you think. By knowing the location of these lines and how to dig safely around them, projects will go faster and safer. Hitting a gas line will slow down the project and potentially cause a hazardous situation.”
In addition to the risk of serious injury, not calling 811 before beginning a digging project could also result in fines up to $10,000 or more and the cost to repair damages.
“Calling 811 is a free service,” Dale explained. “I think many people may not realize that. People also don’t realize that even a small home project like installing a mailbox or planting a shrub could create a damaged pipeline, which in turn could cause a public safety issue in a matter of seconds. Calling 811 and allowing two business days before beginning any digging project decreases the chance of a fracture occurring up to 99 percent.”
More importantly, it’s the law.
“When a call to 811 is placed, 811 will notify all of the utilities that have underground lines in that area,” Dale added. “Those companies will then dispatch their individual locators to mark the lines with paint, or flags - so, you just might see more than one utility locator person over the two-day period marking lines.”
Further, the law states that any locate marks that are older than 20 days, must be relocated and remarked. It also states only one dig per call to 811, according to Dale.
“Rule of thumb? If there is any doubt, call 811 again,” he said. “The premise is that the terrain or the locate marks could have been compromised after that period of time. So for everyone’s sake, it’s best to err on the side of public safety and call again. Also, I think it’s important to clarify: a caller needs to wait two business days before beginning their dig project. This allows the locators enough time to properly mark the utility lines. Also, if the two business days have lapsed and caller hasn’t seen any locate marks, they should then call back to 811 to report unmarked lines.”
Once the lines are marked, the law also states that the excavator - contractor or homeowner - may only use hand tools - shovels, vacuum excavation or air knife technology - within 24 inches on either side of the locate marking.
“In some cases, more than one line may exist within that 24-inch zone, so finding a single utility line doesn’t stop the requirements of using hand tools within that zone,” Dale explained. “Just as if you were to dig without calling 811, any damages resulting from failure to abide by the law are reviewed by the State Commission, and the resident or contractor doing the digging will be responsible for the cost of repair and could also receive civil penalties from the state.”
In the event that something does go wrong while excavating, if a utility line is struck, notify 811 and NIPSCO as soon as possible. If there is a release of gas, by law, you must call 911.
“If a natural gas line is struck, NIPSCO will dispatch first responder servicemen to the scene to make the repair, and, after the area is made safe, an investigation will take place,” Dale added. “Each occurrence is reviewed and ruled upon by the State Commission."