Contractors Report Significant Flaws With the Nation’s 811 Utility Location System, Says AGC

There are significant flaws with the current 811 utility location system according to a new survey of construction firms that perform any kind of underground excavation released by the Associated General Contractors of America. Most contractors say that calling 811 often leads to inaccurate line marking and that utility firms are often very slow in coming out to even do locate and mark their underground lines.

“Construction firms are doing their part to avoid hitting utility lines, but the current 811 system appears to be badly flawed,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “Fixing the 811 system will go a long way in protecting the safety of construction crews and the communities near these utility lines.”

Ninety-nine percent of contractors are familiar with their local 811 systems and the requirements for when and how to use those systems before excavating, the survey found. But 73 percent of respondents reported weaknesses in the 811 process. Seventy-eight percent of firms who found weaknesses said the biggest problem is the lack of accurate utility locating by utility owners and operators. And 56 percent of firms with concerns about the 811 system identified slow utility owner and operator response times as a significant weakness.

The flaws in the 811 system are having a significant impact on construction operations as well as the safety of workers and nearby communities. According to the survey respondents, the two largest causes of utility line strikes and near misses are unmarked or mis-marked utility lines (53 percent) and the failure of utility firms to properly mark their lines within the required amount of time after 811 has been contacted (25 percent).

The association conducted the survey to better understand the cause and responsibility of utility strikes. Many firms reported being unfairly blamed for damages even after contacting 811. Indeed, the survey found that nearly two-thirds of contractors report receiving a claim from a utility owner and operator for damage to a line the construction firm was not responsible for damaging.

“We need to fix the 811 system to make sure utility firms are doing their part to accurately mark their lines,” Sandherr said. “Too few utility firms are being held accountable for doing their part when it comes to helping contractors avoid hitting underground lines.”

An overwhelming majority of survey respondents (98 percent) said one of the best ways to fix the 811 system is to have more contractor representation on local 811 center boards of directors. Many firms also urged all utility firms to be required to participate in the 811 process. Ninety-one percent of firms added they already conduct training with their employees on how to use, and comply with, local 811 requirements.

The 811 survey was conducted in late August and September. Five hundred twenty construction firms responded to the survey, representing virtually every type of excavation activity in the industry.  

View the complete survey results here.

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