Call Before You Dig

Whether you are a landscaper, construction worker, environmental field worker or contracted professional, before starting any excavating project it is essential to protect yourself and stay safe when digging.

811 Day is an annual initiative led by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to ensure the practice of safe digging is echoed in communities and corporations by calling 8-1-1, a nationwide toll-free number, before any excavation project. As an agency committed to safety and protecting the nation’s 2.6 million miles of pipeline, PHMSA recognizes the importance of damage prevention and seeks to eliminate excavation damage, which remains the leading cause of pipeline incidents. According to PHMA, calling 811 or visiting, has proven to be the foremost preventive measure in excavation safety and underground utility damage prevention. Research has revealed that if someone calls 8-1-1 before they dig, they have a 99 percent chance of avoiding an incident, injury, harm to the environment and even death. Employers should consider adding “Call 811 Before You Dig” to all excavating and digging Job Safety Analysis (JSA) and Activity Hazard Analysis (AHA). Adding the “Call 811 Before You Dig” step to a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) and Activity Hazard Analysis (AHA) ensures employees and surrounding personnel are protected from underground utility hazards.

According to the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) , utility lines can be shallow, sometimes only a few inches below the surface, due to erosion, previous digging projects and uneven surfaces. Utility lines need to be properly marked because even when digging only a few inches or digging in a location that’s previously been marked, the risk of striking an underground utility line still exists. A call to 811 is the best safeguard and the first line of defense to preventing strikes on underground utility lines.

PG&E emphasizes that anyone excavating or digging call 811 a minimum of two business days prior to starting any project, no matter how large or small. 811 is a free service for anyone planning to dig. Utilities will send out locators who will come to your dig site to mark the approximate location of buried utilities with paint or flags so that you can avoid them. Each utility type corresponds to a specific color of paint or a flag -- for example, gas lines are marked with yellow paint or flags. In addition to waiting for marks, you must use the info on your ticket to confirm that ALL utilities have responded before you can dig.

Making that free call will help avoid injuries, property damage and costly repairs. The Omega Mapping Services stated that, “Over the past 20 years in the United States, there have been more than 2400 injuries caused by striking unknown utilities during excavations. Some of these instances resulted in the death of members of the construction crew.” For all excavation or digging projects, large or small, adding “Call 811 Before You Dig” to your Job Safety Analysis (JSA) and Activity Hazard Analysis (AHA) can help keep your employees safe.

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PG&E provided Safe Digging Tips for homeowners and professional contractors:

  • Mark project area in white: Identify the digging location by drawing a box around the area using white paint, white stakes, white flags, white chalk or even white baking flour.
  • Call 811 or  submit an online request  a minimum of two working days before digging: Be prepared to provide the address and general location of the project, project start date and type of digging activity. PG&E and other utilities will identify underground facilities in the area for free. Requests can be submitted a maximum of 14 days prior to the start of the project.
  • Dig safely: Use hand tools when digging within 24 inches of the outside edge of underground lines. Leave utility flags, stakes, or paint marks in place until the project is finished. Backfill and compact the soil.
  • Some utility lines may be buried at a shallow depth, and an unintended shovel thrust can bring you right back to square one -- facing potentially dangerous and/or costly consequences. Don't forget that erosion or root structure growth may shift the locations of your utility lines, so remember to call again each time you are planning a digging job.
  • Be aware of signs of a natural gas leak: Smell for a “rotten egg” odor, listen for hissing, whistling or roaring sounds and look for dirt spraying into the air, bubbling in a pond or creek and dead/dying vegetation in an otherwise moist area.

The Common Ground Alliance (CGA), creator of the free 811 online and phone service, stresses to always start with a call or a click to 811 before you dig. Calling 811 or visiting, has proven to be the foremost preventive measure in excavation safety and damage prevention. Research from the PHMSA has revealed that if someone calls 8-1-1 before they dig, they have a 99 percent chance of avoiding an incident, injury, harm to the environment and even death. Adding 811 “Call Before You Dig” and PG&E‘s Safe Digging Tips to your Job Safety Analysis (JSA) and Activity Hazard Analysis (AHA) can help train your employees on the hazards of digging and preventable measures to take to avoid accidents.

In the United States Protect yourself and those around you from injury by contacting 811! Outside of the United States contact your local utility providers.

JSAs are a useful tool that can aid the identification of changed conditions, which can help a work team to develop and agree on revised mitigations at their worksite. Those mitigation revisions can then be immediately documented with a management of change (MOC) annotation right on the JSA. That facilitates helping everybody to complete their tasks safely, in an efficient manner. Performing these MOC steps during reviews help to keep all team members engaged in thinking about their current work tasks and help eliminate potential hazards. A JSA worksheet provides employers so much value so inexpensively, it’s difficult to understand why anyone would not use a Job Safety Analysis for every project task.

Go to and test the referenced JSA software for free, and help your team work safely and go home at the end of each work day without harm. Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter @JSABuilder, where we tweet about Health and Safety, post Safety tips, and provide updates on current Health and Safety topics. We also highly recommend that you try one of our other top safety tools at today, where our database-driven Lockout Tagout tool is currently available for a FREE 30-day trial, which will allow you to manage your lock out tag out program from start to finish. Easily enter your workers, equipment and procedures to build an entire LOTO program . Save time and money using LOTOBuilder and help your workers to work safe.

Note: images, links, brands discussed or displayed in this article are not endorsements or recommendations. They are for illustration of various products and types of products. JSABuilder does not recommend products, does not endorse, or express any opinion as to the applicability to any given use case or job hazard. Again, consult your safety professional to obtain authoritative opinions on applicability, selection and fitting of all the various types of PPE, then work smart and safe.