Be A Good Neighbor & White

This article was published in the 2024 Excavation Safety Guide.

When you think of being a good neighbor, what person comes to mind? For some it might be Jake from State Farm, or for us more seasoned Damage Prevention professionals, it just might be Mr. Rodgers or Wilson from Home Improvement. Regardless, I think both of their messages are somewhat the same. Good neighbors take care of each other! 

So how do we apply being a good neighbor when it comes to white lining, either electronically or in the field? 

As a good neighbor, the importance of white lining in excavation activities cannot be overstated. It’s a practice that transcends the boundaries of construction sites, reaching out to neighboring properties and the community at large. By taking proactive measures like white lining before locator services, excavators not only enhance safety and efficiency but also demonstrate a conscientious attitude towards being a responsible member of the community.  

White lining simply means using white paint, flags, stakes (or any combination of these) to mark the outer edges of your dig site. It is a valuable form of non-verbal communication between you and the locate technician who marks the approximate location of buried utilities within your dig site. When you take the time to white line, it makes it much easier for the technician to focus work on the exact area of excavation and complete the job quickly so you can start your project.  

Each type of buried utility is designated by a different color (using the APWA color code). The color reserved for proposed excavation is white, hence the term “white lining.” Do not use other colors to indicate your dig area. Marks made should be made in dashes 1” wide, and 6”-12” in length. Each mark should be 4’-50’ apart, depending on the scope of the dig area. Line-of-site is important when determining how far apart you make the marks. For smaller dig areas, you may choose to use dots of paint or place a white stake in the center of the dig area with a radius indicated from that stake. 

Additional methods of white lining (where available through the 811 center) include electronic white lining. Electronic white lining provides a method where excavators may indicate their defined dig area visually by electronic data entry (lines or polygons) without the need for a physical site visit. Premarking, on-site and/or electronically, allows excavators to accurately communicate to the 811 center, facility owners/operators, or their locator where excavation is to occur. Utility.Locator

The fundamental tenet of being a good neighbor involves looking out for the well-being of those in the vicinity. Effective white lining significantly contributes to safety. By outlining the intended excavation area clearly, excavators assist locators in precisely identifying underground utilities, reducing the risk of accidental utility damages. This proactive approach ensures a safer environment not just for workers but also for neighboring residents, minimizing the potential hazards associated with excavation work. 

One of the cornerstones of being a good neighbor is respecting property boundaries. White lining demonstrates a respectful approach by clearly indicating the confines of the excavation area. This action prevents accidental encroachment onto neighboring properties, minimizing disruptions, and upholding the boundaries of shared spaces. It showcases an understanding of the importance of respecting the properties and spaces of others, fostering positive relationships within the community. 

To be a good neighbor is to wonder how your words and actions will impact others rather than to wonder how you will be impacted. This is not to say that we should abandon personal safety or exhaust ourselves in unhealthy ways. Instead, we should build the faith to understand that when we are unselfish, our needs will also be taken care of.
-Megan Sanborn Jones on “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
(BYU Professor and Chair of the Theatre and Media Arts Department)

White lining aids locators by providing a clear demarcation of the intended dig site. This precision allows locators to focus efforts on the specific areas identified, allowing for increased productivity with an emphasis on accuracy. The result? Expedited process that minimize disruptions and inconveniences caused to the neighborhood. By streamlining these activities, white lining contributes to a smoother and more efficient workflow, benefiting the entire Damage Prevention community. 

The practice of white lining signifies a willingness to communicate and collaborate effectively. Excavators engaging in white lining procedures ensure that excavation boundaries are clearly communicated, fostering open lines of communication between contractors and locators. This transparent approach encourages understanding and cooperation among stakeholders involved, promoting a harmonious relationship within the community. 

Underground utilities are shared resources serving multiple properties within a neighborhood. White lining plays a pivotal role in protecting these vital resources. By accurately outlining the excavation area, excavators assist in safeguarding underground utilities, minimizing the risk of service disruptions for neighboring properties. Preserving these resources ensures the integrity of essential services, benefiting the entire neighborhood. 

Meeting a deadline is crucial in utility locating. Mandatory white lining helps us meet those deadlines by giving us precise instruction on what area needs to be located so we can allocate the appropriate time and resources to that job.
-Eric Wilke – Owner of Elevated Locating Services

The practice of white lining in excavation activities exemplifies the qualities of being a good neighbor. It prioritizes safety, respects boundaries, enhances efficiency, fosters open communication and collaboration, and preserves vital shared resources. By implementing white lining procedures, excavators not only optimize their work processes but also contribute to creating a safer, more harmonious neighborhood for everyone. 

So how do we tie this all together?  

The industry has been tasked with and accepted the challenge, “50 in 5” campaign to cut damages to buried utilities in half by 2028. There is no doubt this is an uphill battle, especially with the increase and complexity of today’s locate requests. With the 2021 passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs  Act (IIJA) and slowdown in new home construction, regular lot type tickets have been replaced with extensive linear R.O.W. locate requests. With the industry still trying to manage the staffing shortage, now more than ever it’s time to have a call to action to be a good neighbor. Whether white lining is mandated by your local or state laws, consider the benefit if we all contribute and do our part. It is with true collaboration we will move the needle closer to our “50 in 5” goal.  

What does being a good neighbor look like to you?

Todd Griffeth


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