Changes Proposed to Washington’s Dig Safe Law
July 5, 2016
John W. Carpita, PE
In 2011, the Washington Legislature substantially amended the 1984 Underground Utilities Damage Prevention Act, commonly known as the “Call Before You Dig” or “Dig Safe” law. These 2011 amendments (which became effective January 1, 2013 and are codified in Ch. 19.122 RCW) strengthened the Act by requiring reporting of all damage to underground utility facilities, providing the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) with authority to take enforcement action for violations, developing a stakeholder process to review violations, and encouraging better excavation practices. The UTC has recently issued a report, however, that recommends additional changes to the act.
Summary of Existing Law
Among other things, the Dig Safe law:
- Requires facility operators to subscribe to a one-call locator service.
- Clarifies the responsibilities of facility operators and excavators, including how “un-locatable” facilities and service laterals must be identified.
- Clarifies the exemptions from the requirement to notify a one-number service before excavating.
- Strengthens notice requirements for excavation near underground pipeline facilities and responsibilities when damage occurs to those pipelines.
- Requires facility operators and excavators to report damage.
- Creates a Safety Committee to promote safe excavation practices and review complaints of alleged violations.
2015 Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) Report
As part of the 2011 legislation (E2SHB 1634), bill, the legislature directed the commission to report by December 1, 2015, on the effectiveness of the damage prevention program. Highlights of this report, include these topics:
- Increased One Call Locates
- Safety Committee Creation
- Damage Reporting
- Potential Recommendations
Recommended Changes to the Law
Potential recommendations sure to be of interest to local agencies include:
A. Require new underground facilities to be locatable.
Excavators, facility operators, and locators appear to be in agreement that “un-locatable facilities” are a significant problem. When asked in the survey to identify their greatest frustration in the law, 44%responded that it was un-locatable facilities. When facilities are damaged because they are not locatable, disputes often arise as to who is liable for the damage. This problem could be remedied by requiring utility owners and operators to design new underground utility installations, including non-metallic underground facilities, to be installed with a copper wire or other means to allow the facility to be locatable.
B. Require or allow design locates.
One way to reduce underground facility damage is to begin with a design of new construction or public works projects that works in concert with the underground network. The commission and the Safety Committee have been considering ways to encourage the use of utility locates during the design phase of projects, as the law currently does not encourage or require this procedure. An amendment to accommodate design locate requests would assist facility operators and other stakeholders at the beginning of a project.
C. Adopt a “Tolerance Zone” standard.
The tolerance zone is an area equal to the width of the underground facility, plus 24-inches on each side, which acts as a buffer zone for accuracy. When excavation is planned within the specified tolerance zone, the excavator exercises such reasonable care as may be necessary for the protection of any underground facility in or near the excavation area. Methods to consider, based on certain climate or geographical conditions, include hand digging when practical (pot holing), soft digging, vacuum excavation methods, pneumatic hand tools, other mechanical methods with the approval of the facility owner/operator, or other technical methods that may be developed. Hand digging and non-invasive methods are not required for pavement removal.
D. Adopt mandatory training or certification for persons who perform utility locates.
Minimum training guidelines and practices should be adopted for locator training to ensure accuracy and consistency. The National Utility Locating Contractors Association (NULCA) Locator Training Standards and Practices represent an accepted model within the locate industry nationwide. Facility locators should be required to retain documentation of all training to ensure locators have been properly trained.
[Note: MRSC, APWA and NUCA jointly sponsor Dig Safe Certification Workshops.]
E. Require a positive response.
State law forbids excavation until all utilities have been located. However, knowing if all the facility owners have completed their locates is not always clear to the excavator, particularly if there are multiple utilities involved. A “Positive Response” service would clarify for the excavator when locates are complete and excavation can commence. This would require the facility owner or locator to report back to the one-call system when locates are completed or not needed.
F. Report cause of damage to underground facility.
Many reports to the DIRT database list as the root cause for damage “Data Not Collected” or “Other/Unknown,” making it difficult to identify reasons for the damage or analyze the real cause of damage. This in turn makes identifying education, prevention and enforcement efforts more difficult. The act should be amended to require the cause of damage to be identified in DIRT reports.
G. Adopt American Public Works Association (APWA) national marking standards.
State law requires that the excavator follow national standards for paint colors when marking underground facilities, but does not address standards for the markings themselves. More detailed and consistent markings can improve the quality of underground utility locates, making it more likely that excavators clearly understand the markings and can safely work around the buried utilities.
How can you get get involved in the revision process? You may sign up to be on the mailing lists for future meetings and draft legislation by contacting:
Damage Prevention Program Manager
Utilities and Transportation Commission
ph: 360-664-1118 | cell: 360-529-9262
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