Monday, November 26, 2012

MA gas line eruption: Bad marks on ground to blame

A recent gas line blast in Massachusetts which damaged 42 buildings in Springfield, Massachusetts was determined to be the result of an employee following bad markings on the ground. 

This problem highlights a major concern which helped drive the efforts of myself and others to rewrite South Carolina's underground utility safety laws - the reality that contractors have to rely upon information from others and that safe digging is a partnership between contractors, utilities and locator firms. 

The picture on the right was presented by a state Senator in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing two years ago. It showed a scene in Myrtle Beach where gas lines were found six feet from the marks, helping demonstrate the lack of effective standards and enforcement which convinced legislators the time had come to change the laws.

While reforming laws to keep up with changing needs, technologies and standards is important (the 2011 law replaced one written in 1978), one should keep in mind that laws create a framework and set baselines for accountability, but they don't always provide answers in the field.

Most locators I deal with are good at what they do, so this isn't a blanket indictment of their profession. But it does point out the need to proceed with caution and get all the information available before working, as well as be sure your locator knows what they're doing. Also, if you are working on a project where SUE (subsurface utility engineering) reports give you additional information about what's below.

Always know what's below, so you don't end up a headline - or worse:


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