National Safe Digging Month: Call 811 before you dig

newspaperApril is National Safe Digging Month – dedicated to bringing attention to the importance of calling 811 before beginning any digging or demolishing project to avoid damaging underground utility lines.

Virginia has thousands of miles of underground utility lines providing residents of communities and businesses with essential public services such as natural gas, electricity, telecommunications, water and sewer. Preventing damage to these utility lines is a responsibility shared by all.

The State Corporation Commission (SCC) is responsible for enforcing Virginia’s Underground Utility Damage Prevention Act (Act). SCC Division of Utility and Railroad Safety’s Director Massoud Tahamtani said, “When an underground utility line is damaged, there can be far reaching consequences, such as serious injury, environmental damage, property damage, economic loss, and service interruptions.” He added, “Damaging an underground utility line may result in civil penalties and liability claims.”

Virginia has a nationally recognized damage prevention program and the SCC has been enforcing the Act for 20 years. When the requirements of the Act are properly followed, it can help in preventing damage to underground utility lines. Virginia’s program is summed up in the message, “Dig With C.A.R.E. Keep Virginia Safe!” C.A.R.E. means:

  • Call 811 before you dig.
  • Allow the required time for marking.
  • Respect and protect the marks.
  • Excavate carefully.

Calling 811 connects you to VA811, the state’s one-call notification center (formerly Miss Utility) which operates Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., excluding legal state and national holidays. Emergency notification service is available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.

When VA811 receives a call concerning digging or a demolition, trained staff will ask for important information about the planned work and then notify member utility operators that may have underground utility lines in your project area. Utility operators will respond by sending locators to your project area within the time allowed by law to mark the approximate horizontal location on the ground within two feet of the underground utility lines by means of paint, stakes or flags. There is no cost for this service. Once marked, hand digging is required within 24 inches of these marks plus the width of the utility line if known; this area is referred to as the tolerance zone.

Any person excavating or demolishing within the tolerance zone where an underground utility line may be destroyed, damaged, dislocated or disturbed shall take all reasonable steps necessary to properly protect, support and backfill the underground utility lines. In the event that during your excavation or demolition an underground utility line is damaged, dislocated, or disturbed including its appurtenances, covering and coating, immediately notify the operator of the underground utility line.

If the damage, dislocation, or disturbance of the underground utility line creates an emergency, take immediate steps to safeguard life, health and property. In the event that damage to an underground utility line results in the escape of any flammable, toxic, hazardous or corrosive gas or liquid, promptly report the damage to the appropriate authorities by dialing 911.

To learn more about Virginia’s damage prevention program, contact the SCC Division of Utility and Railroad Safety at (804) 371-9980, or visit the Division’s website

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