A Commitment to Safety
The North Carolina Utility Contractors Association (NCUCA) is a non-profit trade association affiliated with the National Utility Contractors Association. NCUCA members are engaged in the construction and/or rehabilitation of utility systems including storm sewers, sanitary sewers and drainage, water lines, cables, ducts, conduits, gas lines, tunneling, boring and trenchless construction, treatment systems, pump stations and other utility construction. Our mission is to promote the underground utility industry by providing safety training, continuing education, and legislative relations.
The NCUCA supports the efforts of the North Carolina Department of Labor to inform and educate the industry to enhance compliance. NCUCA members are actively conducting in-house safety training, employ safety directors and have staff assigned to assure regulatory compliance and conduct on-the-job training. In addition, the Association’s National and State Chapters regularly sponsor safety-training programs and produce training aides. NCUCA members have been known to meet with competitors when a potential for injury has been noted and offer assistance with safety training and orientation to regulatory compliance. NCUCA supports compliance with safety regulations and we appreciate the Department’s strategy of prevention through the dissemination of regulatory information and safety education rather than using fines and penalties to achieve Departmental goals.
NC DMV Officer Explains Proper Licensure and Safety Check Requirements
NCUCA demonstrates the organizational commitment to safety by conducting sessions on safety management at NCUCA Spring and Fall Conferences, sponsoring an annual Safety Seminar at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord and conducting periodic educational programs targeted at special groups and needs, such as the March 2002 Spanish Trench Safety and Competent Person Training conducted in conjunction with the National Utility Contractors Association Foundation. Articles on safety, special publications, and distribution of training tapes are components of NCUCA’s commitment to safety.
NCUCA Seeks Partners in Achieving a Safer Work Environment
To further enhance the safety of workers in the industry and to achieve the goal of zero-fatalities and reduce the number and severity of injuries on the job, the Association seeks to enhance the cooperative relationship with the NC Department of Labor and other stakeholders to expand its educational capacity, and facilitate a holistic approach to safety incorporating improving access to as-built drawings, designing concurrent with Subpart P, incorporating a continuing education requirement component to licensure and expanding programs to recognize contractors who achieve high safety standards and who make significant improvements to their safety management programs and records.
Licensure & Continuing Education
There is no efficient, effective way to disseminate legislative and regulatory changes. Not all members of any vocation belong to or actively participate in trade associations, which are typically best at “getting out the word.” Any voluntary method will be ineffective and there is no mandatory method in place to ensure contractors are up to date on safety, regulatory, or legislative issues.
Many professions require continuing education in order to maintain a license to do business. The NCUCA believes it would greatly enhance safety if annual renewal of the utility license required proof of knowledge of current laws and regulations and, specifically, safety rules.
Often, several qualifiers will pledge their license to one business entity. Therefore, it should not be necessary that all qualifiers participate in continued ed but that at least one from each company do so.
There are many details to be considered and worked out, but there should be no insurmountable problems.
The North Carolina Utility Contractors’ Association would support efforts to make continuing education a condition of renewing a general contractor’s license.
We realize many excavators doing trench work operate as sub-contractors and no license is required, or they work below the value limits that require a license. We would be supportive of efforts to bring all excavators into some mandatory program.
NC One Call Law Revisions – (NCOCC)
Over the past several years NCUCA has worked tirelessly with the General Assembly and all stakeholders to obtain a revised comprehensive NCOCC law. Several bills have died due to the lack of aggregate stakeholder support.
As NCUCA worked with NC OSHA on blasting law revision for seven years, NCUCA is committed to the process to achieve comprehensive NCOCC law reform. This commitment will span as many legislation sessions as necessary. This will be a major step for our employee safety. By reducing facility damages, we reduce our employee exposure to injuries that result from digging into gas lines, water lines, electric lines and other utilities.
Subpart P revisions have done a wonderful job at eliminating fatalities in compliant excavations. Our goal is to obtain comprehensive reform to reduce our employee exposure to another controllable risk.
It is not unusual for even the most careful of companies to cut unmarked water lines, gas lines, electrical lines, and phone lines with employees in the excavation. It is an awful feeling, as I can attest, to cut unmarked gas, electric and water lines endangering your co-workers. With today’s technology it is inexcusable to needlessly place yourself, your coworkers and the public at great risk due to poor facility identification by facility owners and haphazard excavation practices on our part.
In 2001, ABE Utilities, Inc., a typical NCUCA-member firm, called in 128 locates, identifying 500 – 600 lines and cutting 9 lines. Seven were not marked. Two were attributed to excavator error. ABE Utilities, Inc. installs 20 miles of pipe annually. This fuels our commitment for reform.
At the NC Utilities Commission forum this month, Southern Bell alone experienced 39,000 cable cuts and $24,000,000 in repair revenue in 2001. In addition to the collateral customer loss of service, great risk of injury to employees occurs when excavators encounter and damage phone, gas, petroleum, electric, traffic signal, CATV lines, storm drains, water lines and sewer lines in the field. Recent fatalities in our state have come from boring into unmarked gas lines, excavating under storm drain conflicts, and excavating parallel to existing utility trenches.
We understand that these lines are all over. As our population and service areas grow, more and more underground facilities are installed. As urban areas increase in density, new utilities services and upgrades are continuously installed underground. To continue to operate safely in this changing environment, we need to know:
- What is in the ground?
- Where is it?
- How many are here?
At the NC Utilities Commission forum, the presenters yielded some very interesting data. In Virginia only 35% of the damages result from excavator error based on Virginia One Call data. The balance has other factors involved including mislocates and no-shows on locates. Virginia Natural Gas presented data that revealed when their no-show locates were in the 1-2 per 1000 tickets, the line cuts were within 2-3 per 1000. When no-shows were in 10-12 per 1000, the cuts were in the 20+ per 1000. This data shows why the locates are necessary. Facilities are damaged due to no-show locates. This places field personnel at extreme risk. This is a controllable life safety risk for employees.
From 1997 to today, all stakeholders have been involved in a nationwide project funded by the USDOT and Office of Pipeline Safety. This is the Common Ground Alliance. This group represents all stakeholders with an equal voice. The stakeholders represent NUCA, AGC, Gas Industry, Power Industry, Petroleum Industry, Railroads, Telecom Industry, DOT, One Call Center, Locate Contractors, Public Works Association and others. They have issued best practices acceptable to all stakeholders.
Existing NCOCC Process
Section 1. Chapter 87 of the General Statues “Article 3. Underground Damage Prevention” adopted in 1985 is the current NCOCC law. The procedure roughly defined in 5 steps:
- The excavator calls NCOCC and defines the work area
- Through the information/computer age a locate ticket is written, map verified and distributed to member companies, typically gas, electric, telecom entities, and some cities
- The members mark their lines within 48 hours with uniform color codes
- The excavator can locate marked facilities and proceed with the excavation after 48 hours
- Should facilities be damaged, those lines properly identified are the liability of the excavator. Those improperly identified are the responsibility of the facility owner
This works amazingly well. However, there are serious life safety shortcomings. These are revealed after some 17 years of working under the law. Comprehensive reform can eliminate our continued employee exposure to these dangers.
Required Comprehensive Reform
In order to get our current legislation updated, many best practices of the Common Ground Alliance need to be incorporated in any new legislation. We have identified these necessary practices with examples illustrating the need for inclusion in comprehensive reform.
Mandatory Membership in NCOCC
Many municipalities, the universities, and private water and sewer systems operators are not members of NCOCC. For instance, the City of Raleigh only includes water and sewer in NCOCC, not transportation that covers all traffic signal systems. The excavator does not know what other facilities are in the area. As all are underground, you don’t know whom to call unless some visual signage exists. NCOCC only notifies members with facilities in an area. We generally have no idea what other non-member facilities are in the area.
Currently this is 30″ each side of the facility mark. States with narrow location tolerance zones have significantly less damages. Common Ground Alliance best practice recommends 18″. Twenty-four states have this tolerance zone in their law.
If there are no marks on the ground after 48 hours, is the area clear of facilities? We don’t know without positive response, i.e. “All Clear CP&L” flags, paint or phone calls. Several of the telecom facilities call to clear tickets as a positive response.
Type of Facilities
Many times the facility is identified with one mark when in fact numerous cables may be under the mark. Sometimes primary and secondary power lines are in the same trench at different elevations. Multiple phone lines or abandoned lines may appear in a tolerance zone excavation with only one mark.
Life of Locates
Good practice requires renewal of marks as needed, generally 15 days.
These are necessary for the engineering/design community to design projects with existing facility avoidance. Many times the existing facilities require moving new construction on roadways towards the traffic. OSHA Subpart P compliance covers general excavation. By knowing existing facility location, the designer can locate the new facility to allow, say, a 1 to 1 slope in type B soil. Shoring areas can be properly noted on plans and not left to conjecture and change orders.
Accurate As Builts
Accurately drawing the in-place facility to a GPS base for future location is necessary to build the future data base of facility locations.
High Speed Locates
When problems arise due to latent subsurface conditions, the need for rapid response must be accommodated. A typical example would be finding unknown facilities in open roadway excavations with a NCDOT mandated 9-4 work time.
24/7 – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – NCOCC access is required for filing tickets and response during off peak hours and mandated periods of weekend work. Currently, the NCOCC centers receive calls 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, Monday through Friday. In congested downtown urban areas or industrial plants, 2nd and 3rd shift work and weekend work is a given. NCOCC needs to be meet these off-hour requirements on a 24/7 basis.
We need to know if the facilities found are in service or abandoned as it may affect our excavation planning and execution.
Currently no civil penalties are applicable to facility owners or excavators for ignoring the law or failing to perform to the law.
Currently no recovery of damages is available from the facility owner by the excavator or collaterally affected parties.
Comprehensive reform of the NCOCC law is a necessity to protect employees and reduce facility damage. We need the Department of Labor to understand that all proposed changes recommended would improve workplace safety and Subpart P compliance. This reform is the next big step in underground excavation employee safety.
Excavation Design By SubPart P
Education of the Engineers that regularly design underground projects to the requirements of Subpart P, will help reduce trench fatalities. The knowledge gained through this education hopefully will influence the design. The understanding of Subpart P will help the designers to recognize the potential dangers associated with the following.
It is becoming common for the designer not to take into consideration the location or depth of existing utilities in their design. They are transferring this responsibility to the contractor. Therefore, the contractor may be faced with several unexpected changes in either depth or location. This could lead to unsafe excavations due to the change in scope.
More gravity lines are getting deeper but the easement widths are not getting wider. The contractor must pile spoil dirt higher and closer to the excavation, to work within the confines of the easement.
Right of Way
With an increasing number of utilities (power, telephone, gas, fiber optic, cablevision, water (domestic), water (dirty), sewer and storm) within the existing street ROW, the space allowed for installation of new lines is shrinking. Often moving the contractor closure to traffic increasing the risk.
Due to the increase pressure to deliver a project early, or get out of the street faster, the time allowed is getting shorter. There may not be enough time to safely complete the excavation, therefore increasing the risk.
These are four areas that knowledge of Subpart P will directly influence an engineer’s design. In addition, if their design meets the requirements of Subpart P the number of field changes and unanticipated obstructions will decrease therefore lowing the risk. With better designs, the number of trench fatalities will decrease.