Ground Disturbance

In many industries ground disturbance can be defined as any work requiring a penetration into the ground surface. Examples of ground disturbance include trenching, excavations, post holes, soils borings, groundwater monitoring well installation, scraping, digging barrow pits, and driving stakes. Ground disturbance also include surface soils penetrated by hand tools such as picks and shovels. FEMA

Hazards associated with ground disturbance arise from the activity hitting, striking, breaking, rupturing, or damaging underground utilities, structures, or other subsurface features. The largest hazards involve energized subsurface utilities, such as electrical, telephone, fiberoptic, water, petroleum, and natural gas conveyance lines. These subsurface utilities can range from domestic feeder systems, to large scale high pressure natural gas supply lines.

The hazards associated with ground disturbance can be considered in the Job Safety Analysis for several reasons including:

  1. Striking an underground utility can cause injuries ranging from minor, to a single fatality, to many fatalities. The fatalities may not be limited to construction workers and field staff. Depending on the severity of the utility breach the general public may be included.
  2. Economic consequences from striking underground utilities, can range from minor repairs to the utility, to paying for lost time due to the utility being out of service, to legal liabilities due to fatalities.
  3. Construction delays.

According to the National STEPS Network, there were 8,000 natural gas line strikes in 2016 and 5 deaths from 2006-2016 in U.S. Onshore Upstream industry due to ground disturbance related field work.

The National STEPS Network has posted some resources relating to the hazards and mitigation of hazards related to ground disturbance as well as this video which can be used when to inform site workers about the dangers associated with striking underground utilities. The video can also be a useful tool when preparing your Job Safety Analysis to refresh people’s awareness of ground disturbance issues.

The Job hazards as well as the potential economic impacts related to ground disturbance hazards are so high that all 50 of the United States require underground utilities be located and marked prior to excavation and ground disturbance type work. In 2013 the state of Washington further refined their ground disturbance laws. All states have implemented a universal phone number, 811, to request utilities to identify, locate, mark their underground lines and equipment in the areas of proposed field work. The Common Ground Alliance has a website with resource information about each state, Call Before You Dig.

Some states, such as California, have their own notification system and requirements. California law requires that before ground disturbance a Dig Alert notification be filed. The California law is updated periodically, so make sure if you are working in California you are complying with the most recent requirements under the law. Dig Alert has a FAQ that maybe be useful to consult during the preparation of your Job Safety Analysis.

When your work involves penetrating the ground surface, it is imperative to consider all of the hazards associated with ground disturbance in your job safety analysis.

JSA worksheets are always an essential tool to list and present risks along with safety procedures to insure safe work practices for each job. is a great on-line job safety analysis app to assist in preparing your job safety analysis or activity hazard analysis regarding ground disturbance safety. Set up a free trial account today and follow us on Twitter @JSABuilder, where we Tweet about Health and Safety, provide Safety tips, and updates on current Health and Safety topics.