Common Ground Alliance (CGA), the national nonprofit trade association dedicated to protecting underground utility lines, people who dig near them and their communities, today published a Report to the Industry as part of its Next Practices Initiative. The Next Practices Initiative launched in 2020 with the goal of driving innovative solutions to the damage prevention industry’s biggest challenges, and its Report to the Industry marks the Initiative’s first call-to-action for stakeholders.
The Next Practices Advisory Committee – comprised of leaders representing a wide range of damage prevention stakeholders – reviewed and analyzed data from CGA’s annual DIRT Report, CGA’s primary excavator and locator research, and industry surveys to identify the most critical issues facing the damage prevention process of underground utility lines and the best opportunities for improving the system so that it works for all stakeholders all of the time.
“The inefficiencies and opportunities identified by CGA’s Next Practices Advisory Committee in its Report to the Industry focus on examining why we are continuing to see damages to underground utility lines rise in the U.S. – damages that we know come at an estimated societal cost of $30 billion annually,” said Sarah K. Magruder Lyle, president and CEO of the Common Ground Alliance, a member-driven association of nearly 1,700 individuals, organizations and sponsors in every facet of the underground utility industry. “The Next Practices Initiative is already succeeding at inspiring stakeholders to think about the damage prevention system as a whole, rather than several siloed functions. I would like to thank the members of our Advisory Committee for their collaborative, holistic approach to driving system-wide improvements and truly living up to CGA’s shared responsibility model.”
The Report to the Industry details the research and data that point to three critical issues facing the U.S.’s damage prevention system:
- Facilities not marked accurately or on time:Locating issues are a serious driver of damages, and a lack of confidence in timely or accurate locates can lead to the abandonment of the notification step altogether or over-notification by excavators, which ultimately increases pressure on locators.
- Excavator errors in the field:Failure to pothole, failure to maintain clearance and other excavator errors are resulting in damages. Excavators frustrated with late and inaccurate locates may contribute to over-notification, or they may choose to dig before confirming utility response or after the life of a ticket to stay on schedule.
- Effective and consistent use of 811:Failure to notify remains the single largest contributor to damages, with other notification issues continuing to increase as well. The overall erosion of confidence in the damage prevention system is likely contributing to poor notification practices.
The Next Practices Advisory Group identified four of the most impactful opportunities for the industry to invest in improving the damage prevention process and address the critical issues driving inefficiencies and rising damages:
- Electronic white-liningwill help reduce the scope of locators’ work and provide them with better information about the job site, leading to timelier locates and restoring confidence.
- GIS mapping of all buried infrastructurewill help tackle the problem of abandoned lines and will give locators more accurate information to work from, thus driving more accurate and timelier locates and restoring confidence.
- Utilizing software to account for variability in locate demand and likelihood of damages on certain projectswill help locate companies plan accordingly to meet demand and help facility owners protect infrastructure likely to be damaged.
- Contractually requiring adherence to CGA Best Practices and stronger enforcement mechanisms provide financial incentives for all stakeholders to live up to their obligation as part of the damage prevention process.
“The Next Practices Initiative represents some of the most innovative and important work happening in damage prevention today,” said Josh Hinrichs, president of ELM companies, vice-chair of the CGA Board of Directors and a member of the Next Practices Advisory Committee. “Our Report to the Industry gives a data-driven voice to what many of us have been facing as damages have risen over the last half-decade: We need to work together to make systemic changes in order to improve safety outcomes, because stopgap and bandaid solutions to our entrenched challenges are only driving inefficiencies. I’m proud of the comprehensive approach that the Next Practices Advisory Committee has taken, and I look forward to providing more guidance on implementation later this year.”
“Our investments in damage prevention are really investments in public safety for the communities we serve, for our employees and other contractors who excavate near underground infrastructure,” said Greg Smith, chair of CGA’s Board of Directors and former vice president of operations with Shell Pipeline Company, LP. “I appreciate that CGA’s Next Practices Initiative has taken on the complicated task of examining how all damage prevention stakeholders can make smarter investments to reverse the trend of rising damages and improve public safety in the U.S.”
Over the next several months, the Next Practices Initiative will move into an information-gathering phase to assess practices, case studies, implementation examples and other data that will inform the publication of its next report, Pathways to Improving U.S. Damage Prevention, which will be released in conjunction with the CGA Conference & Expo set to take place in Orlando in Oct. 12-15, 2021.