AEM-March/April 2015

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AEM-March/April 2015 2016-07-27T12:11:46+00:00
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AEM Corner: Safety Campaign for Underground Utilities

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Road builders often encounter underground utilities that, if struck by equipment, can cause serious injuries and expensive damage.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) has begun a safety campaign to prevent underground utility damage from horizontal directional drills, vacuum excavators, trenchers and other equipment. The campaign is designed to promote best practices for site preparation and equipment operation, and to demonstrate that underground utility installation and repair can be done safely and efficiently.

One element of the campaign is correcting some common misconceptions about underground utility work and replacing them with the facts. Here are some important examples:

Depths of utilities can be assumed
Locator depths are approximate. Depths of utilities absolutely cannot be assumed.  Even within a block, a utility may dip or rise. Utilities must be exposed to verify location and depth.

It will never happen to me
Thinking, ‘I’ve done it a million times and nothing has happened,’ can lead to serious consequences. Don’t take chances. The risk is too great.

Exposing to the depth of the utility is good enough
Expose to the depth of the intended bore path. Then, visually ensure that both the drill head and back reamer have
crossed the existing utility with plenty of clearance.

Just drill deeper to avoid existing utilities
Drilling deeper is appealing, but it’s dangerous because it creates potential dangers for later utility work. Locators become less accurate at approximately 10 feet, which means when you dig below that you could be creating real problems for the next utility operation, which also might decide to just drill deeper.

Sewer lines don’t need to be or cannot be located
If a sewer line is breached, the sewer will clog. The plumber will run a snake into the sewer and damage the line. If it is an electric line, the plumber can be shocked. If it is a gas line, the gas could migrate into the sewer and ignite once inside homes.

There are no utilities present when there are no location marks
A lack of marks could mean only that the utilities have yet to be located. Many states have a positive response system so they can verify that all utilities have cleared the area.

If something happens after I call 811, they are liable
Excavating contractors are responsible to verify that utility locations are correct. This includes contacting utilities that don’t subscribe to 811, looking in the area for signs of utilities (outbuildings, pipeline markers, light poles, utility boxes, meters, etc.) and exposing the utilities to verify the locations.

Exposing utilities (potholing) is part of the contract price for drilling
A better approach is to check the contract carefully, ensuring that potholing is actually in the contract because digging a hole to the correct depth may still not expose the utility.

Electric strike alert systems can be ignored
The safe approach is to always assume that when an alarm sounds there has been an unexpected electric strike. This results from cross boring and cutting an underground electric line going to a business or home. There are two kinds of alarms, voltage and current detection systems. Regardless of which system you use, if an alarm sounds, assume there has been an unexpected electric strike.

AEM assists manufacturers and the off-road equipment industry in fostering safety best practices through the
association’s extensive array of safety manuals, videos and related training materials. Visit for more information.

For safety, everyone plays a part. For more information and to get involved, contact AEM’s William “Bernie”
Bernhard at, or 414.298.4106. 


AEM provides trade and business development services for companies that manufacture equipment, products and services used world-wide in the agricultural, construction, forestry, mining and utility sectors. AEM is headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with offices in the capitals of Washington, D.C., Ottawa, and Beijing.

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2015 March/April Articles


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Past Issues



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