Before you dig – Do you really know what’s below?
It’s a Friday morning in a major North Island city and a water pipe has sprung a leak, the civil crew has been called outand they can see the water rising through cracks in the road seal. The time is 10am and the leak is near a school and a busy intersection.
This work requires removal of the road seal and excavation to depth of up to 1 metre and the crew decides that if they can get to work now they can get the pipe before the school finishes for the day.
The contractor gets to work using a concrete cutter and then proceeding with a jackhammer to break up the ground and get to the suspected depth of the pipe. Sud- denly there is a loud explosion and flash of light and flames shoot upward over the contractor using the jackhammer, he falls backward into the trench screaming. An ambulance is quickly called and arrives and stabilises the still screaming worker and takes him away to hospital with burns to his legs, hands, arms, chest and face.
In the meantime, the damaged cable has caused a major area outage to the electricity network affecting hundreds of homes and businesses and causes traffic and travel chaos as the road is closed for investigation by authorities and then repairs. As well as the terrible life changing injuries to the worker the community must deal with disruption into the evening.
This might sound over dramatic but is in fact a real-life story explains Phil Cornforth, country manager for beforeUdig New Zealand. Phil has worked in the utilities industry for more than 25 years and spent ten of those with a large New Zealand electrical lines company dealing with the effects from third party damage to power and gas utilities including this incident.
This incident demonstrated the critical requirement to plan your works effectively before you start digging. At the outset this should be done by requesting plans for any underground utilities such as power, gas, water and telecommunications. This is done free through www.beforeUdig.co.nz and 80 percent of NZ utilities are part of the service as they recognise the crucial role beforeUdig plays in protecting the public from injury and their assets from unwanted third-party damage.