Estimated Underground Utility Damages Decline for Fifth Consecutive Year

Excavation damage caused by not calling before digging is down some 70 percent since 2004.

Excavation damage caused by not calling before digging is down some 70 percent since 2004.

The Common Ground Alliance (CGA), focused on protecting underground utility lines and the safety of people who dig near them, reports that underground utility damages in the U.S. decreased to an estimated 170,000 in 2009, down 15 percent from 2008 and down 58 percent from 2004.

This data was released as part of CGA's Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) Report, which CGA issues annually as part of its continuing mission to identify the contributing factors and root causes of underground utility damages and near misses. Developed in 2003, DIRT is CGA's secure Web application for the collection and reporting of underground damage information.

Of the total number of damages reported in 2009, nearly 60 percent had a known root cause, and the top causes were identified as follows:

1. Excavation practices not sufficient: root cause for 38 percent of reported damages

For these damages, excavators notified the one call center to have underground utilities marked, but damage still occurred because of the lack of careful excavation practices around the marks.

2. One call center notification not made: root cause for 34 percent of reported damages

The first step in the damage prevention process, excavators must contact their local one call center by calling 811 a few days before digging. These damages were caused by the excavator's failure to contact the one call center.

3. Locating practices not sufficient: root cause for 24 percent of reported damages

These damages were caused when excavators, who had contacted their local one call center before digging, struck an underground line or lines that the facility operator did not properly or accurately mark.

Improvements in One Call Center Usage

Damages reported with "notification not made" as the root cause are down some 70 percent from 2004, the year of the first DIRT Report.

CGA stakeholders have greatly increased their promotion of one call notification centers since the initial report, aided largely by the launch of 811 in May 2007 as the national call-before-you-dig phone number, allowing for consistent one call messaging across stakeholder groups and state lines.

"Making a phone call to 811 is by far the easiest damage-prevention tactic any excavator can make, and it's encouraging to see a continued downward trend in the overall number of damages as well as the number of no call damages," said Bob Kipp, CGA president. "But with more than one-third of damages still caused by a failure to contact a one call center before digging, CGA stakeholders are well aware of the need for continued, ongoing promotion of the 811 message and damage prevention process."

New Data for 2009

New for the 2009 report, CGA analyzed the right-of-way types affected in the reported damages and found nearly half–49 percent–occurred under public streets, with an additional 24 percent occurring under privately owned land. The remaining events took place under dedicated public utility easements–10 percent–and private easements–4 percent. Other right-of-way types comprised the remaining 13 percent of incidents.

Additional new categories for the 2009 report include an analysis of excavator downtime incurred in a subset of the total reported damages, as well as a separate category that focuses solely on the more than 2,000 submitted near-miss events.

"This year's DIRT Report provides CGA stakeholders with the most comprehensive data about underground utility safety that's ever been collected," Kipp said. "In producing and disseminating this report, it is our hope that the data can be used to continue to reduce damages and increase safe digging practices."

The complete DIRT Annual Report for 2009 is available for download at

About CGA: CGA is a member-driven association of nearly 1,400 individuals, organizations and sponsors in every facet of the underground utility industry. Established in 2000, CGA is committed to saving lives and preventing damage to the North American underground infrastructure by promoting effective damage-prevention practices.


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