Are There Underground Pipes in Your Job Site?

Whether it’s an excavation or construction site, there will always be risks before, during and after the job. It’s especially the case during the job when people, materials and machinery put a huge burden to the ground. Also, the activities of the crew (e.g. using a shovel or a backhoe) may result to damages and more seriously, accidents.

Fortunately, most accidents could be prevented if there’s complete and updated information regarding the risks present in the site. For instance, knowing the exact positions of pipes underground can make the entire crew more cautious. They could avoid those locations or take special measures when working around those specific areas.

General measures in risk assessment

Before starting any kind of work, it’s good to implement general measures (starting with the basics first). This way, we can have a more systematic way of identifying the risks and mitigating them.

When working near utilities, engineers and project managers take the time to review the drawings and documentation for work. They take special note of what utilities are present in the site. This also involves a site visit so they can better see the utilities and surrounding structures.

But it’s only the first step because during a site visit the team can only see the overhead service lines, electrical posts and above-ground utilities. The information is not enough to keep the workers safe. What’s needed is the assessment of both above ground and underground risks.

As a result, the next step is often about using the Dial Before You Dig service (usually not more than 30 days before work commences). They can provide the team with some information about what utilities are present in the site and who are the asset owners. The project manager can then contact those asset owners so that every relevant party is informed on what the crew is about to do in the site. The asset owners can also provide information about special precautions and instructions regarding the utilities.

However, the information from Dial Before You Dig may still not be enough to completely identify the risks. After all, some utilities and asset owners might not yet have registered in the Dial Before You Dig Service. The crew has incomplete information about the identities and locations of the underground utilities. The markings will be incomplete and the crew might hit an underground pipe during an excavation or construction activity. The damaged or burst pipe might release water, sewage or gas. The leak might then cause injuries, environmental hazards, fires or explosions. Also, the damage could lead to a huge service interruption to the residential, commercial or industrial area.

To determine the identities and locations of all underground pipes and other utilities (including all utilities that are not yet registered with the Dial Before You Dig service), an underground utility detection service is often employed. This technical service can provide more accurate and timely information regarding the underground utilities present in the site. The markings would be more accurate and the entire crew can take special precautions when working near those utilities.

For instance, here at One Search Locators, we use both the electromagnetic method and ground penetrating radar technology when locating underground water pipes. Whether the pipes are metallic or non-metallic, our wise use of modern technology will result to the accurate detection of those water pipes buried in the ground.

The result is a complete map of the underground water utilities whether it’s a straightforward connection or a complex network of pipes. This way, the crew can avoid damaging the water pipes during excavation (whether manual or with the use of powerful machinery). After all, damage to water pipes can propel debris and might injure someone (or hit the surrounding materials and equipment). Also, the release of water under high pressure can erode the soil or flood the site. The released water may also damage surrounding infrastructures.

The result is a huge delay on the progress of the construction project. Also, the residences and businesses might experience a long water service interruption. More importantly, injuries and fatalities might result from damage to the water pipes.

The danger could even get greater when buried gas pipes are involved. Damage to gas pipes could be disastrous because the escaping gas can create the conditions for fires and explosions. The release of gas might also affect the physical health of the crew and people nearby.

The risks and dangers get magnified in areas with high density of people and structures such as in the CBD and Melbourne’s commercial areas. In addition, the network of underground utilities in these areas is much more complex. The paths of the pipes are far from straightforward and these pipes might have been positioned at varying depths. This makes excavation much more challenging because of that higher level of complexity.

Working near underground utilities

It’s important that the team has access to the latest underground utility map. The utility locators and the excavation/construction team can then establish markings to be used as reference when digging.

Once the positions of all underground pipes are located, it’s time to implement safe digging practices. The digging should remain gentle so that in case of accidental impact, the damage or danger won’t be severe. Also, manual tools (not heavy equipment) should be used when working near a pipe. The use of powerful mechanical excavators might result to serious impact or vibrations.

It’s also a common practice now for service locators to perform a continued observation as the digging proceeds. After all, during digging new risks are continuously being introduced. The excavation activities might have caused the pipes to slightly shift in position. Whether it’s due to direct contact or mechanical vibrations, continuous monitoring is the key to responding to new risks.

However, the success of the entire digging operation might heavily depend on the utility map’s accuracy. Any error might spell disaster to the entire team, which is why the utility location service should be focused on producing the latest and most accurate results.

This accuracy would largely depend on the skill of the Service Locators. Although modern tools and technologies now exist for better detection of underground utilities, the technical expertise of the Service Locators is still valuable. After all, there’s an endless variety of scenarios when it comes to the nature of the project site and the potential risks involved. Each project is unique in its own right whether digging in a crowded urban area or a sparsely populated site.

Technical expertise is also important in the proper selection of tools or technologies for the detection of underground pipes. For instance, the ground penetrating radar method provides accurate results when it comes to locating metallic and nonmetallic utilities. However, this method should only be used on dry soil. In addition, Service Locators also need to consider the presence of other objects buried in the ground that might interfere with the signal when detecting the utilities. For example, there might be redundant and decommissioned utilities in the area. They might also interfere with the interpretation of the signal. These redundant and decommissioned utilities should also be detected and accounted for especially when the site was used to be an industrial or petroleum facility. The tanks and the pipes might still contain volatiles that can start fires and explosions.

Underground pipes in your excavation or construction site should be accurately located. Then, safe digging practices should still be implemented to further prevent damage to the utilities. These two steps are very important in establishing and maintaining the safety in the work site.

It’s especially the case now in most projects wherein there’s a complex network of subsurface infrastructure composed of water, sewage, electrical, telecommunication and gas utilities. Working in urban sites presents a huge challenge because of the high level of complexity and presence of more risks both on the surface and underground.

Here at One Search Locators, we specialise in locating all existing utilities in the site. We use a combination of different tools and technologies to accurately determine the locations and depths of water pipes and other subsurface utilities. Our Service Locators account for several variables when choosing a technology and interpreting the results. This way, we can provide a comprehensive map that can help you and your team remain safe once the digging starts. Contact us today and let’s discuss your requirements. Our team can arrive on site within 24 hours so that you can safely start with your project as soon as possible.

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