The following recommendations highlight specific actions for industry consideration across the damage prevention process as well as opportunities to enhance data analysis moving forward.
Prioritize Damage Prevention Efforts Based on Immediate Needs and Greatest Impact
- Increase damage prevention outreach and stakeholder communication as rollout of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act increases construction activity across the U.S. DIRT analysis continues to establish a correlation between construction spending and total damages. As funds are directed toward the improvement of some of the facilities which have the highest incidence of damage during utility work – water, sewer and telecommunications infrastructure – the damage prevention process will be impacted. Increased outreach before and during projects will be instrumental to limiting damages to these utilities and surrounding facilities.
- Strengthen engagement with public works stakeholders. Municipal work such as water and sewer are the leading type of work being performed when a damage occurs. DIRT analysis tells us that other facilities such as natural gas and telecommunications are the most damaged facility types during municipal work. Increasing public works participation in damage prevention efforts at the local and national level will be increasingly important.
- Educate professional excavators on areas with the greatest potential impact on damage prevention – consistent and efficient use of 811 for all projects, and safe excavation within the tolerance zone. Measuring effectiveness of existing educational content and ensuring that new content targets the areas of greatest potential impact will ensure educational resources are being utilized effectively. Stakeholders can deploy available resources, such as CGA’s video series “Tips for Effective Use of 811,” that provides messaging on the important role excavators play in maintaining an efficient damage prevention process.
- Tailor damage prevention efforts and investments to address the leading individual root causes. The issues that consistently rise to the top each year are: (1) digging without notification to the 811 center; (2) a combination of failure to pothole and failure to maintain clearance between digging equipment and buried facilities; and (3) locating issues, with more accurate mapping consistently identified as an area with most potential to bring down damages.
Increase Opportunities for Analysis by Improving Data Effectiveness
- Improve data quality and reporting by industry. High quality data is essential to identifying the factors that contribute to damages and near misses and ultimately to developing effective corrective actions. Large percentages of DIRT responses with “unknown” or left blank result in an inability to truly assess and understand the issues leading to damages.
- Know your Data Quality Index (DQI) and identify steps for improvement going forward. DQI measures the completeness of your data records. Reach out to CGA staff for assistance in interpreting your DQI and identifying opportunities for improvement.
- Increase DIRT reporting directly from excavators. The reports submitted directly from excavators are usually high quality, but the quantity is lower as the majority of excavator-attributed reports come via 811 centers (one call centers).
- Enhance data collection process used by telecom/communications companies to gather more detailed incident information. Locating Practices is the leading root cause group for damages to telecommunications and cable facilities. Marked inaccurately and not marked due to locator error are the leading individual root causes. Additional follow-up has shown that these more general root causes are selected, but often mask a more specific root cause such as issues with mapping, tracer wire or abandoned facilities. More granular data would be valuable for the entire damage prevention community, but more importantly, would prove to be valuable for telecommunication companies and would help identify the leading opportunities to reduce damages and repair costs.
Identify Opportunities for Additional Analysis and Document Effective Strategies
- Gather information on key motivating or influencing factors affecting an excavator’s decision to contact 811, with the goal of separating out lack of awareness. With failure to notify the 811 center remaining the top individual root cause of damages year after year, yet excavator awareness of 811 remaining high, it is imperative that we begin to better understand and address the reasons that 811-aware excavators do not always notify.
- Identify new strategies to increase consistent use of 811 on every project (and document results). Whether working with high-volume excavators within a state’s 811 system or facility owner/operators’ excavating subcontractors, finding opportunities to incentivize and increase consistent and responsible use of 811 on every project could lead the industry to its next significant reduction in damages to buried utilities.
- Document effectiveness of specific policies, enforcement models and training/educational programs on prevalence of excavator errors in the field. Finding more direct methods for evaluating the effectiveness of damage prevention training and education programs by tying them to excavators’ damage data will help the industry better understand which educational interventions are most effective in achieving behavior change.
- Identify methodology to measure and document the impact of greater availability of improved/accurate maps on the damage prevention process. Leading-edge facility owner/operators are investing in improving their facility maps, and both CGA’s Next Practices Initiative and Locator White Paper have identified improved mapping as one of the most efficient paths for addressing locating issues and ultimately reducing damages. Being able to tie mapping investments and improvements to better damage prevention outcomes would support the business case for more facility owner/operators to make crucial mapping upgrades.
DIRT Report – Opportunity for Self-Evaluation
Examine your organization and stakeholder group’s impact, role in the damage prevention process and potential opportunities for improvement.
- Are you collecting and submitting the highest quality DIRT data available to your company/industry? How are you utilizing this data to improve your damage prevention practices within your own company?
- Are you taking steps to minimize “noise” in the 811 system?
- Excavators: Does your number of locate requests accurately reflect your current workload?
- Facility Owner/Operators: How many “renotification” requests are you submitting throughout the life of your facility maintenance and new construction projects?
- Are you requiring everyone that works for you or on your behalf to follow the most effective and proven safe digging practices to reduce the likelihood of the top root causes of damage?
- Facility Owner/Operators or Project Owners: Do you insist on potholing by your contractors and ensure this is built into their project costs? If you are a utility company that uses vendors for locating or subcontracts excavation work, do you use contracts that incentivize following safety and damage prevention processes and procedures?
- Excavators: Do your employees know they will not be penalized for any project delays caused by adhering to the 811 process? Do you require specific training for excavation within the tolerance zone?
- Are you using/investing in new technologies to improve mapping, locating and GIS data?
- Do you prioritize safety and damage prevention in your organization/company? If so, do you communicate that effectively to your employees?
 “Noise” is defined as locate requests that detract from locators’ ability to process tickets and provide marks where and when they are actually needed. Practices that contribute to “noise” include:
- Locate requests for more work sites than can reasonably be started before the tickets expire.
- “Emergency tickets” that are not really emergencies.
- “Just-in-case” tickets so crews are not idle if work sites are not located on time.