Dig safely and prevent utility dig-ins

Utility contacts can be costly—and deadly. Underground utility contacts cost utility owners and contractors millions of dollars in repair and service disruption costs every year. Not only that, workers who contact buried utilities put themselves and the public at risk of injury or death. It’s your responsibility to dig safely to protect yourself, your crew and the public.

Call Miss Utility at 811 at least two full business days (excluding the date of your request, weekends and legal holidays) but not more than 10 days prior to digging. 

This free service will arrange to have underground utility lines marked so you can dig a safe distance away. Call before you dig, blast, bore, trench, drill, grade or excavate in any way. Even small jobs require a call.

Before you call, pre-mark your proposed dig area with white paint, flags or stakes. This helps locators more easily mark the affected utilities.

Wait for utilities to be marked before digging. Once utilities are marked, respect the marks, hand-expose to verify location and dig with care.

Always contact your state 811 center before digging and for the most current requirements.

Know what's below. 811 before you dig.Notify 811 well ahead of digging, so underground utilities can be marked and you can work safely.

Worker with jackhammer

Shocking fact:
Not all utilities are members of 811. You are responsible for notifying non-member utilities. For a list of these utilities, check with 811 in the state where you will be digging.

Utility locator marks protect you.
Make sure you and your crew know how to read utility locator markings and know the American Public Works Association (APWA) uniform color code for marking underground utilities. Color code charts are usually available from Miss Utility.

Locator flags are placed within paint marks.
If you find flags outside the borders of locator markings, someone may have tampered with them. Contact Miss Utility by calling 811.

APWA Color Code for Locator Marks
Red Electric power lines
Pink Temporary survey markings
White Proposed excavation
Yellow Gas, oil or steam
Blue Potable water
Green Sewer and drain lines
Orange Communication lines, cables or conduit
Purple Reclaimed water, irrigation and slurry lines

Utility locator marks protect you from injury and prevent damage to underground utilities. Make sure you and your crew understand them.

Locator marks

Flag marker

Shocking fact:
You might arrive at a job site and find no markers, even AFTER utility locating has been completed. If so, do not assume that the area is clear of utility lines. Look for aboveground signs of unmarked utilities such as gas or electric meters, pipeline markers, valves, etc. Also check for signs of something buried after the locate was completed, such as a fresh trench. If you find unmarked facilities, stop digging and notify 811.

Per Maryland and District of Columbia law, do not use mechanized digging equipment within the “tolerance zone.”
This safety area spans 18 inches on either side of the extremities of a marked underground utility line. Hand dig or use vacuum excavation equipment within this zone.

Always contact your state 811 center before digging and for the most current requirements.

Shocking fact:
The width of the tolerance zone varies from state to state, and it is the excavator’s responsibility to know what it is.

Check utility depth for yourself.
Before you can safely cross or work close to an underground utility, you must first verify its depth. Flags and locator marks tell you the direction the utility is running, but not how deeply it is buried. The only way to be sure of utility depth is to carefully expose it and see for yourself.

Proper hand-digging tools and techniques protect you and prevent utility line damage:

  • Use a blunt-nosed shovel to loosen the soil, and a regular shovel to remove it. Do not use a pickax or any sharp or pointed digging tools. Do not stab at the soil or stomp on the shovel with both feet.
  • Work with a gentle prying action and dig at an angle, so the shovel will slide along the surface of the wire, conduit or pipe. Or, dig to the depth where you expect the utility line to be, but off to the side. Then use a prying motion to break away soil as you approach the utility laterally.

Use proper hand-digging tools and techniques to safely verify the depth of any buried utilities you must cross or work near.

Shocking fact:
Buried utilities are supposed to be installed at a specified depth. But in reality, utility depth is unpredictable. Improper installation, landscaping, regrading, repaving, erosion and building development can all alter utility depth.

Vacuum equipment helps you verify utility depth.
Before you can safely cross or work close to an underground utility, you must first verify its depth. Flags and locator marks tell you the direction the utility is running, but not how deeply it is buried. The only way to be sure of utility depth is to carefully expose it yourself.

Vacuum equipment saves hand labor. 
Vacuum technology can expose buried utilities without harming them. It uses suction and water pressure to remove soil down to the utility. Operate vacuum equipment only if you have been properly trained in its use.

If damage to a utility does occur, report it immediately.
Repairs can be made more easily while the utility is still exposed. Never try to fix a damaged utility yourself.

Be sure to wear proper personal protective equipment when using vacuum technology to verify utility depth.

Vacuum excavator

Shocking fact:
Follow recommended practices for backfilling any utilities you uncover or expose with vacuum technology. Check with the local utility owner and municipality. Some facilities require a bed of sand, fine stone or slurry.

Know what's below. 811 before you dig.Call Miss Utility at 811 well in advance of directional drilling.
If you are planning to use directional drilling, call 811 well ahead of the job. Let them know about the equipment you will be using, and ask them to space locator marks closer together. This will help you see if the utility’s path shifts or turns suddenly.

Dig potholes so you can safely monitor the drill head.
A buried drill head makes it impossible to tell how close you really are to an existing utility. This makes it especially important to manually expose the line and watch as the drill string passes through. Keep a margin of safety by planning the bore to be a minimum distance of 36 inches from the utility. Watch the drill head cross during the initial bore and also during backreaming to ensure this minimum distance is maintained.

Calibrate the bore head and locating device at the start of each job.
Remember, the locating device can monitor the bore head on the initial pass, but may not be able to monitor the backream head.

Stay at least three feet away when boring parallel to buried utilities. Pothole utilities so you can monitor the bore head path and visually verify a safe distance.

Shocking fact:
Many drilling rigs have utility strike alarms that will alert you if you contact a buried power line. If this alarm sounds, assume you have hit a live power line and follow your company’s guidelines and the emergency procedures described on this website.

There’s no such thing as minor damage to utilities.
What looks like a small nick in a gas, sewer, electric or water line can result in a major health and fire hazard to the surrounding neighborhood. And damaged phone lines or fiber optic cables can disrupt 911 emergency service.

Never bury a damaged utility.
Trying to cover up an accident can be dangerous, and can lead to costly damages or criminal charges against you and your company. Take the following steps instead.

If you suspect a gas leak or if you contact a gas pipeline, take these steps:

  • Leave the area immediately and go to a safe place where you can call BGE at 800.685.0123.
  • Extinguish open flames. Do not use matches or lighters. Do not attempt to light an appliance.
  • Do not use any phones, electric switches, thermostats or appliance controls.
  • Do not start or turn off vehicles or motorized equipment. Abandon any motorized equipment.
  • Do not attempt to find the source of the leak or to repair a leak.

Call 911 if you are concerned about your safety. If gas is escaping, federal code requires you to call 911.

In case of electrical contact:

  • Remain on the equipment.
  • Tell others to stay away.
  • Have someone call 911 and BGE immediately.
  • If fire or other imminent danger forces you off:
    • Do not touch the equipment and the ground at the same time.
    • Jump clear, and land with your feet together.
    • Take very short hops, keeping feet together and making contact with the ground at the same time.

In the event of any type of utility contact, take appropriate safety steps and notify your supervisor and the utility immediately.

Shocking fact:
An underground utility contact can happen even if you have dug in the area before or think you know the location of the lines. Landscaping, erosion, or other factors can change the location and depth of underground lines. Call 811 well in advance to have all underground utility lines marked.

Learn the warning signs of a gas pipeline leak.

BGE puts the safety additive mercaptan in natural gas, giving it a rotten-egg odor and making it easier to detect. Some gas leaks are also detectable by sight or sound. Signs of a gas leak include:

  • Dirt being blown into the air
  • Dead vegetation in an otherwise green area
  • A dry spot in an otherwise moist area
  • Fire coming from the ground or appearing to burn above the ground
  • Water bubbling or being blown into the air
  • Roaring, blowing or hissing sounds
  • An exposed pipeline after an earthquake, fire, flood or other disaster
  • A damaged connection to a gas appliance
Contractor hand digging