Piece of the Puzzle

Locating is an important step in underground utility work that all contractors should be doing.

So you’re on a job site and the local 811 service has already done its job of “locating” the belowground utilities. Now what should you do?

Don’t even think about turning on that vacuum excavation machine, trencher, directional drill or other excavating tool before first being confident about what is in the ground you are about to tear into.

The last thing you want to do is put your life or your employees at risk by striking a potentially dangerous utility. Even if no one gets hurt, it could cost your company millions to repair.

Many states require contacting a local 811 service before starting each job — but that shouldn’t be your only line of defense. The 811 service is only responsible for identifying the public utilities, not the private.

A few examples of private utilities include: any utility line run between the main meter to the house, shed, barn, garage or other building on the same property; wires for sprinkler systems; electrical lines for outside lighting; propane lines that connect a tank to the house; lines running from a meter to submeters; and fiber-optic lines from building to building.

Your next step should be to contact a private utility locating company to locate at that same job site. Having those service companies available for your use can be a great supplement to the 811 services. Both profiles in this issue highlight private utility locating companies that know what it takes to make sure everyone is safe.

Sweetwater Utility Exploration in North Carolina and Mid-Atlantic Utility Locating of Ashburn, Virginia, use several locating methods, from electromagnetic to ground-penetrating radar and vacuum excavation.

While one company is large (Mid-Atlantic with 18 employees) and the other is small (Sweetwater with six), both know that if they don’t do the job correctly, it could cost a life. Both companies are careful in completing every task on site whether the job is small or large.

“We never take shortcuts,” says Matt Bellmann, owner of Sweetwater Utility. “When you take shortcuts is when you run into trouble.”


Even though National Safe Digging Month (April) is already past, it doesn’t mean you can stop thinking about safety.

According to the Common Ground Alliance, a member-driven association dedicated to promoting damage-prevention practices for underground utilities, 31 percent of all underground excavation damages were not preceded by a locate request. Reported incidental damage to underground utilities occurs more than 200,000 times a year in Canada and the U.S.


If you’re a contractor that locates utilities or would like to expand to offer those services, you can find out more about the available equipment by paging through the Product Focus feature in this issue. You’ll find equipment to help you communicate better on a job site, plus mapping tools, software and locators. It’s a great way to see what is on the market to help your company grow.


Are you already a utility locating contractor? Show us how you do your work. Take a picture of your crew locating, email it to me at editor@digdifferent.com and tell me about the job they are working on.

Enjoy this issue and remember to Dig Different!


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