How to Effectively Avoid Damage to Underground Assets

How to avoid damage to underground assets and prevent paying millions of dollars in damages?

First is to have an accurate and updated utility map before anyone starts digging. Professional utility locators can provide you with the map and photos. This way, your crew will successfully avoid those pipes and cables underground (or your crew will work around them). As a result, you’ll avoid underground utility damages and even improve workplace safety.

Why underground utility damages still happen?

Even with all the services and records available to prevent catastrophes, accidents when digging still happen. Why? One main reason is the inaccuracy (or the records are outdated already).

That’s why many excavation and construction firms only hire experienced utility locators for the job. These professionals can provide the most recent info. They can pinpoint the exact location of the entire subsurface infrastructure.

For example, our certified Service Locators can accurately locate the following:

  • Water pipes
  • Gas pipes
  • Electric cables (including main transmission lines)
  • Telecom lines (internet and cable)
  • Sewer lines
  • Storage tanks
  • Voids
  • Stormwater drains


In other words, all the underground utilities and obstructions should be located first before digging. This is to avoid utility damages, interruptions to the community and worker injuries and accidents.

Hitting an object that looks like dirt seem harmless. However, it could be a main transmission line. The crew might accidentally hit it and cause a major interruption to the community. Worse, this could even lead to injuries and fatalities.

Construction and excavation crew are also equally careful when dealing with telecom lines. Damages to these lines can cause a major inconvenience to both families and businesses. After all, many businesses still rely on telephone to service their customers. For families, many count on a reliable internet connection for their leisure (and connecting with other people).

To prevent these scenarios, Service Locators provide a comprehensive utility map that shows all the locations of underground utilities. Although the crew still need to be cautious while digging, the utility maps will still contribute to workplace safety.

How professionals locate subsurface pipes and cables?

Historical records and documents will not suffice. That’s why Service Locators often use a variety of technologies and techniques to accomplish the task.

For example, professionals use electromagnetic equipment to locate electricity cables. The equipment sends signals into the ground and read the output. For water pipes, professionals use Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to locate metallic and non-metallic (e.g. PVC) pipes underground.

There are also cases when an underground CCTV inspection is required. This produces real-time imaging of the pipes underground. This also allows access to hard-to-reach areas without much excavation and disruption.

How to locate storage tanks underground?

Aside from pipes and cables, locators also search for underground storage tanks. These tanks might be holding diesel, petrol and other volatiles. If these were accidentally hit, this might cause huge fires and explosions.

Oil refineries, gas service stations and other industrial sites often have these storage tanks. Whether it’s an internal construction (project is for the same company) or external (other parties are working near the site), it’s crucial to locate those storage tanks first before digging (especially when using heavy equipment for excavation).

How subsurface maps speed up project progress

Aside from improved safety, subsurface utility maps also help speed up the progress of the project. Basically, this is about minimising delays (no accidents) and more accurate planning. The whole crew will use the map as a guide to stay away from dangerous utilities. They could also use the map to start with less dangerous areas (thereby more progress in shorter time).

Damage to underground utilities can result to weeks (or even months) of delays. For example, accidentally hitting a water pipe can lead to temporary halt of the project. The water would spill out and flood the area (which makes the site unworkable). In addition, there will be community complaints and legal issues that will further the delay.

But with an accurate and complete utility map, there’s a lower probability for the above scenarios to happen. There will be minimal delays and the project will progress as planned. There will also be fewer complaints and legal issues because accidents were prevented in the first place.

Dangers of reckless digging

Let’s review the risks, costs and issues related to reckless digging. Once we identified those issues, we’ll then be better informed and equipped to prepare for the risks and dangers.

The dangers and risks include:

  • Worker injuries and fatalities
  • Project delays
  • Community interruption
  • Costly repairs
  • Legal ramifications

These could all total to millions of dollars in fines and other payments. In contrast, it’s a relatively small investment to choose a reputable utility mapping team. They will provide accurate maps and records that aid in improving workplace safety.

If there’s negligence and just one accident, the costs could actually accumulate. For instance, a worker accidentally damaged a power line. First, electrocution is highly likely (worker injury or fatality). Second, there will be at least one-day delay (could be weeks depending on the situation).

Next is there will be interruptions to the families and businesses (especially if it’s a main transmission line). The complaints might accumulate and these could result to further delays. In addition, the construction or excavation firm might be required to pay for all the damages. There could also be legal consequences if it’s confirmed that standards were not followed during digging.

It’s a basic scenario whether it’s a power line, a water pipe or a telecommunications cable. It’s expensive and time-consuming. The delays and worker injuries might even permanently stop a project from its tracks.

Why old records are not enough

First, old records might already be outdated. Through the years, both natural and man-made causes might have already made some pipes and cables to shift. For instance, recent construction activities near the site might have caused some shifting of utilities in the area.

In addition, the records you get from different agencies and companies might be far from consistent. This results to guesswork and increased risk to your workers and project. What you need is the most recent information if you require the most accurate set of data.

That’s why qualified Service Locators are tasked to locate all subsurface utilities. They use their expertise and modern technologies to provide real-time information to developers, engineers and project owners.

This way, the risks get minimised. The updated reports and maps also aid in improved planning. Engineers can better plan the workflow and safely forecast the project timeline. This is possible because the risks were already identified early on.

One way to minimise risks

Because of the expensive risks and human dangers, many firms have already formulated processes to minimise those risks. Here are some of those:

  • Protect the subsurface infrastructure (this requires intensive site preparation)
  • Use less invasive excavation methods (e.g. hydro vacuum excavation)
  • Initial soft digging (uncover first the cables and pipes before extensive excavation)

Those are implemented to minimise risks. However, it all starts with an accurate utility map. After all, careful site preparation is only possible if the entire subsurface infrastructure were accurately located in the first place.

In addition, even less invasive excavation methods still require some form of digging and destruction. The specific safety and risky points should also be determined beforehand. In other words, no matter the safety procedures required, it begins with Service Locators who can provide you with complete underground information.

Working with the general public and asset owners

While digging and evading the underground assets, it’s highly likely that there will be some interruption to the general public. The excavation sites should be off-limits to passersby. Moreover, there should also be collaboration with the asset owners (especially utility companies).

Also, there are still safety risks around the work site. The site should have clear signs and some safe allowance to the minimum distance where other people can approach. There are standard protocols for these but for added safety, firms usually prioritise the general public.

On the other hand, communication with asset owners is also crucial. Just in case there were pipes and lines hit, the firm should immediately contact the asset owner. This is to turn off the water or electrical supply to the site if needed. This will then limit the further dangers to the workers and the general public.

How to avoid damage to underground assets

In summary, preventing damage to underground utilities starts with having accurate and updated utility maps. Certified Service Locators can provide you with such data with the use of their expertise and modern technologies such as Ground Penetrating Radar and electromagnetic detection.

Here at One Search Locators, we use up-to-date technologies to pinpoint the location of all subsurface pipes and cables. We service the following areas:

  • Sydney
  • Newcastle
  • Wollongong
  • Melbourne

You can contact us today and we’ll arrive on your site within 24 hours upon your request. Our client-focused staff will provide you with a free quote if you call us today at 1300 530 420.

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