Page 22 - Texas811 Magazine 2021 Issue 4
P. 22

The Common Ground
Alliance (CGA, https:// commongroundalliance.
com) defines Excavate or Excavation: as “Any operation using non-mechanized or mechanized equipment, demolition, or explosives in the movement of earth, rock, or other material below existing grade.” As far as I am concerned the CGA definition is as good as any. That said, in its simplest terms, excavation is simply digging a hole in the ground.
Have you ever dug a hole in the ground? I have. What is important when you are digging a hole? Lots of things like where are you going to dig the hole? What is near the hole? How deep does the hole need to be? How big does the hole have to be? What can be done with the excavated material? What is the hole going to be used for? What is the soil like (i.e., is it sandy, soft, wet, rocky, full of gravel, full of roots - you get the idea)? What is the purpose
of the hole (i.e., plant a tree, put in a fence post, a basement, a foundation, a lake or pond, or just recontouring for appearance)? When does the job have to be done? Is there a budget (there is ALWAYS a budget!!)?
The list of considerations is endless. Which consideration is most important? I submit that the single most important consideration is safety: Can the hole
be dug without unacceptable risk to humans or the environment? Good question. What is unacceptable risk? Or, to put it another way, how safe is safe? That question is well beyond the space I have for this discussion.
Excavation Advances
The basic idea is to plan the work and then work the plan - but work the plan with your head up. Things change. If the plans are good and are followed, the project will probably go well. If a good plan is not followed, it is worthless. In my last couple of articles, I talked about the importance of GIS and Mapping and data management. If the plan is based on bad data, it is probably not a good plan. Surprises pop up. Managers MUST earn the confidence of the boots on the ground. Poor decision making
at the top and ignoring the needs and concerns of the boots on the ground are recipes for disaster.
There is no doubt that the equipment available to identify potential underground hazards today is vastly superior to what used to be available. But today’s equipment must be properly maintained and operated by skilled technicians. Just pushing buttons and recording readings may not be enough. The same can be said for modern excavating techniques. GPS controlled dozers, backhoes, vertical drilling
rigs, tunneling & boring equipment,
and horizontal directional drilling equipment can do wonderful things - but they are only machines. Somebody that knows what they are doing must maintain and calibrate the equipment and the “boots on the ground” operating the equipment must be able to recognize abnormal situations and shut things down before somebody gets hurt. Can you say, “Deepwater Horizon”?
Other “advances” in excavation are the types and quality of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that is available today
by John Jacobi
and volumes of regulations that must be followed in the excavation industry. In my opinion, PPE can make some jobs more difficult and uncomfortable. So what?! The inconvenience of modern PPE is minor compared the reduction in the number of injuries and the reduction in the severity of
the injuries that do occur make the minor inconvenience well worth the investment. Furthermore, I would suggest that each time PPE “reminds” a worker that he or she is wearing PPE should be a reminder that SAFETY IS IMPORTANT!!
As for the regulations, they are typically the minimum required. Everyone involved should be aware of, if not familiar with, the applicable regulations. Regulations, however, are a poor substitute for real world knowledge about what is going on and the courage to stop a job before someone gets hurt.
A good old fashioned shovel and the wisdom to know when and how to use it are often two of the best tools there are for safe excavation.
When it comes time to start digging for whatever reason, there is no substitute for calling 811 and getting a physical locate. Even with a physical locate, it is IMPORTANT to make sure that the underground utility of concern what was actually located.
You cannot be too safe when excavating.
John Jacobi retired from PHMSA. For questions or comments, email:
20 • Texas811 2021, Issue 4

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