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 Line in the Sand
An old Tom Hanks movie, Joe versus the Volcano, always brings a smile. To simplify without spoilers, it is about a worried hypochondriac that always sees the negative side of life. At the end of the movie, just when you think he has changed, he reverts to his old behavior. Meg Ryan asks him “It is always going to be something with you, isn’t it, Joe?”
Through my years of working on legislation for excavation around underground utilities, no matter how much we achieved, I always sought more, and I think some people I worked with thought “It is always going to be something with you, isn’t it, Joe?”
During these years in and affiliated with the excavation industry, there has been a lot of change, some missteps, but some significant improvements. That is not to say that there is no continued room for improvement. There are additional issues that are becoming problematic.
Construction sites have become large, complex, and demanding. These characteristics have introduced new complications.
Temporary Installments
When I started in the industry, there were temporary utilities, which meant temporary electricity which was not much more than 120-volt power for the carpenters. An extension cord or a cable was laid across the surface with the hope that it was not snagged or cut.
Today, temporary utilities have grown into much more complicated, more substantive, and more vital lifelines. Tower cranes demand more and interruption of that causes significant downtime and delay. Neighboring businesses may need temporary communication or powerlines during construction. An interruption of any of these temporary utilities can bring production or business to a massive halt. Yet rarely are markings or indicators present. Restoration of service is not simply finding or buying another power cord. More importantly, they can be as harmful or as deadly as permanent installations.
Yet, these utilities, unlike their permanent counterparts, are rarely on the drawings, often unmarked and are installed
in less than precise manners. Vacuum excavation is a great tool for locating utilities when there is some predictability of the location of the utilities. Vacuum excavating every square inch of ground is not workable. If these lines were protected, marked, noted on the drawings, and committed to a clear and specific corridor on a job site, damage to them could be minimized. And workers could proceed with more confidence that they are safe.
Newly Installed or Moved Utilities
In anticipation of a new project or one that might create conflicts for existing utilities, existing utilities are often
By Joe Igel
relocated. Yet determining their new location often seems impossible. The delay in obtaining the new locations is often only possible after the project is complete or at least out of the ground with little or no excavation remaining. Until the final “as-builts” are submitted and entered the damage prevention phase, there will be no markings, no location. So how are they avoided?
What is the solution?
In neither of these cases does the law really provide a solution. It simply comes down to the same principles we relied upon years ago, Communication, Cooperation and Collaboration.
All parties (the contractors relying upon the utility feeds, the general contractors/construction managers, and excavators) need to effectively work together on an ongoing basis to make work near these successful and safe. These strategies have worked in the past and continue to work now. It is time to dust them off and rely upon them in these situations.
Mr. Igel retired as vice president of the George J. Igel & Co., Inc. after working there for more than 35 years.
2023, Issue 3
 Texas811 • 17

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