December 2022 Vol. 77 No. 12


Latest DIRT Report Indicates Utility Damage Maintains Incident Levels

(UC) — While ongoing programs are in place to reduce accidental damage to buried utility infrastructure, damages continue to happen, usually during construction or repair work, when interrupting service, and sometimes posing the risk of injury and death.

These damages are estimated to cost $30 billion each year. Much is caused by not taking the simple step of calling 811 to request locating and marking of buried facilities before beginning construction that involves excavation or directional drilling. 

That’s the conclusion documented in the latest Common Ground Alliance (CGA) Damage Information Report Tool (DIRT) report. 

CGA is a non-profit organization that leads efforts to reduce accidental damage. The annual DIRT report is based on information about accidents to infrastructure belonging to industry stakeholder members of CGA. The latest DIRT report is based on 2021 data. 

The report says, in part: “No notification made to an 811 center remains the top root cause, with over a quarter of all damages still attributed to no notification. 

“CGA excavation research tells us that professional excavator awareness of 811 is very high, yet in one year, 60 percent of all damages due to no notification can be attributed to professional excavators. It is important to note that 36 percent of those professional excavators failing to contact 811 were likely working on projects associated with utilities (natural gas, electric, telecommunications) and/or municipalities (water, sewer, road, sides, etc.).” 

Sarah Magruder Lyle, CGA president and CEO, said the same issues are driving the vast majority of damages every year. 

“We must focus on addressing this handful of recurring damage root causes to reverse the stagnant rate of damages to buried utilities,” she continued. “The report found that damages occur most often when utility work is being performed on water facilities, by sewer and then telecommunications. 

“An analysis of the most frequently damaged facility types – natural gas and telecommunications – shows that telecom infrastructure is being damaged by facility owners themselves or their subcontractors about twice as often as natural gas facilities.” 

Lyle said CGA’s three-year trend analysis indicates that damages to buried facilities have plateaued or slightly increased.  

“Data from 811 One Call Centers,” she said, “shows us that system volume was up 8 percent in 2021, and construction activity resulting from the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is likely to further stress an already overloaded damage-prevention system.” 

CGA’s analysis of 2021 data suggests ongoing challenges in the damage prevention process, such as including no notification to the 811 centers, failure to pothole and/or maintain sufficient clearance, facilities not marked or marked inaccurately due to locator error, and other improper excavation practices. 

These challenges are consistently responsible for more than 76 percent of damages; addressing them would significantly reduce instances of damages and near misses. 

The 2021 report recommends that stakeholders tailor damage prevention efforts and investments to the specific leading root causes, to most effectively lower damages and improve the damage prevention process. 

Additional recommendations from the report include strengthening engagement with public works stakeholders, expanding damage prevention outreach to address increasing construction activity, and enhancing excavator education around consistent and efficient use of 811, as well as safe excavation within the tolerance zone. 

“The report’s recommendations,” Lyle said, “emphasize tailoring outreach and educational efforts toward the most consistent damage drivers – failure to notify 811, failure to maintain clearance or to pothole, and locating errors – in order to have the greatest and most immediate impact on damage prevention. 

“Establishing new metrics for evaluating damage prevention investments and strategies will be increasingly important as we look toward the next decade of damage prevention.” 

The DIRT Report is made possible each year from the contributions of damage prevention stakeholders who submit their damage and near miss data. 

“CGA’s annual DIRT Report is an essential tool for understanding the most pressing challenges in the damage prevention system and has been critical in helping our industry identify the best pathways forward to reducing damages to vital infrastructure,” concluded Lyle.  

Established in 2000, CGA is a member-driven association of nearly 1,900 individuals, organizations and sponsors in every facet of the underground utility industry. It is committed to saving lives and preventing damage to North American underground infrastructure by promoting effective damage prevention practices.




The latest CGA DIRT Report provides the following recommendations to reduce damage to buried utilities. 

  • Increase damage prevention outreach and stakeholder communication as rollout of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act increases construction activity across the U.S. DIRT analysis continues to establish a correlation between construction spending and total damages. As funds are directed toward the improving facilities with the highest incidence of damage during utility work – water, sewer and telecommunications infrastructure – the prevention process will be impacted. Increased outreach before and during projects will be instrumental to limiting damages to these utilities and surrounding facilities. 
  • Strengthen engagement with public works stakeholders. Municipal work, such as water and sewer, is the leading type being performed when damage occurs. DIRT analysis tells us that other facilities, such as natural gas and telecommunications, are the most damaged facility types during municipal work. Increasing public works participation in damage prevention efforts, at the local and national level, will be increasingly important. 
  • Educate professional excavators on areas with the greatest potential impact on damage prevention – consistent and efficient use of 811 for all projects, and safe excavation within the tolerance zone. To ensure effective use of educational resources, existing and new content should be measured against the areas of greatest potential impact. Stakeholders can deploy available resources, such as CGA’s video series “Tips for Effective Use of 811,” that provide messaging on the important role excavators play in maintaining an efficient damage prevention process 
  • Tailor damage prevention efforts and investments to address the leading individual root causes:  
    (1) digging without notification to the 811 centers, (2) a combination of failure to pothole and failure to maintain clearance between digging equipment and buried facilities, and (3) locating issues, with more accurate mapping consistently identified as an area with most potential to bring down damages. 
  • Improve data quality and reporting. High-quality data is essential to identifying the factors that contribute to damages and near misses and, ultimately, to developing effective corrective actions. Large percentages of DIRT responses with “unknown” or left blank result in an inability to truly assess and understand the issues.

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