If your work involves excavations or trenches, it could be life-threatening. Compliance with prescribed safety standards is crucial. The Common Ground Alliance says underground utilities nationwide, including California, exceed 100 billion feet. The highest risk workers include construction workers, utility workers and landscapers.
Calling 811 should be a part of the planning of any project that involves underground digging. You have the right to refuse to dig or excavate before utility workers have marked the locations of utility lines. These markers will also indicate the type, including natural gas, water pipelines, sewer pipelines, telecommunication cables or electrical wiring.
Knowing the locations of the utility lines is not enough. Your safety training must include the dangers of broken utility lines and how to work safely near these lines. Furthermore, you must also learn what to do in the event of severed or damaged cables or pipes.
Some of the risks related to utilities include the following:
- Severed electricity lines could energize the ground, causing electrocution risks.
- Damage to natural gas pipelines could cause fires and gas explosions.
- Even the smallest gas leak could overwhelm workers.
When any damage to utility lines occurs, you must stop what you are doing and leave the area immediately. Inform the affected utility supply company right away. If the damage involves electricity, it could be phone lines, TV cables or electrical wires. It would be best if you did not attempt to find out which utility was damaged. Instead, evacuate the area safely.
Your employer is responsible for your safety, and that includes safe evacuation after utility line damage. For example, damaged electrical lines of any kind can charge the surrounding ground with electrical energy. To prevent electrocution, leave the area by keeping both your feet on the ground and shuffling away to a safe location. Similarly, if you are in a vehicle nearby an energized ground, stay in the vehicle until utility workers have de-energized the damaged electricity line. Leave the vehicle only if it catches fire.
If you receive an injury while working in underground excavated areas, you can apply for workers’ compensation benefits. The California workers’ compensation system is a no-fault program. Therefore, you are eligible for benefits regardless of who was at fault. Benefits typically include compensation to cover all your medical expenses. If your injuries cause temporary disability, compensation will include your lost wages. If a work-related injury causes death, the surviving family members might be eligible for death benefits.