Being in the construction business, you’ve probably heard this one before: Before you start digging anywhere in the U.S., call 811 to make sure you don’t hit an underground utility line. Doing so could result in gas leaks, power outages and expensive repairs, but you can avoid those nightmares by calling 811 before you dig.
In 2005, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated 811 as the nationwide call-before-you-dig hotline. When you call 811, you’re rerouted to the local call center closest to you. Some states allow you to submit your dig request online. This map can give you some more information based on which state you live in.
The Call 811 Before You Dig campaign began in 2007 as an effort by the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) to prevent damage to underground utility lines. Utility lines can be very thin and easy to damage, especially with mechanized equipment. What’s more, lines may be buried only a few inches underground. That means even if you’re just doing a simple home improvement project, like putting in a new mailbox, you can damage those lines. And when you’re a contractor working on a big construction project with heavy equipment and lots of excavating, it’s even more likely that the lines might get hit.
For that reason, calling 811 is the law in every state. Utility operators will come out to your work site and use color-coded markings to show where utility lines are located underground. Call at least two to three business days before work starts, and wait until every utility operator has marked their lines before starting your project. When you call, talk to the call center rep about how the confirmation process works in your state so you don’t begin digging too soon.
Every state has 811 laws, but the rules can vary from state to state and undergo changes from time to time. It’s important to keep tabs on your local rules and regulations to ensure you are always on the right side of your state’s laws.
One thing remains consistent nationwide: Once the lines are marked on your jobsite, you’re obligated to dig with care. In most states, this means you aren’t allowed to use machinery when digging near utility lines. Instead, you need to hand dig or use vacuum excavation.
Once the lines are drawn, you have a certain amount of time during which you can work. This depends on your state. In Texas, for example, your marks are valid for 14 days after they are set. In Missouri, meanwhile, they are valid for as long as they are visible. It’s your responsibility to respect and maintain your utility line marks, and you can always call 811 to get your jobsite remarked if need be. In fact, if your project takes longer than a few days, chances are you will need to call 811 again after the markings expire or fade due to weather or wear and tear.
No matter your state, getting familiar with its digging laws ensures you cover all your bases. And whatever you do: Make sure to call 811 before you dig to avoid damaging utility lines and getting fined.