The Value of a Rigorous Utility Investigation for Project Construction

This article was published in the 2024 Excavation Safety Guide.

When it comes to underground utility construction, one of the most critical aspects that often doesn’t receive the attention it deserves is the value of a rigorous utility investigation. This aspect plays a pivotal role in reducing damage to underground utilities and preventing injuries to construction personnel. Let’s delve into why a rigorous utility investigation is essential and how it benefits excavators, Notification Centers, and facility operators who are dedicated to minimizing utility damages.

Understanding the Basics. What exactly is a rigorous utility investigation, and why is it crucial in project construction? 

Defining Rigorous Utility Investigation. ASCE/CI/UESI 38-22 Standard Guideline for Investigating and Documenting Existing Utilities is an update to the 38-02 standard reflecting the updated changes in practice, technologies, and research for detecting/documenting the uncertainties of locations of underground utilities and other infrastructure. A rigorous utility investigation includes Quality Level B (contains Quality Level C and Quality Level D), and Quality Level A test holes, if needed. This work is to be performed as part of the engineering plans and can be shared with the utility owners. Utility identification at this stage of planning and design development helps to prevent utility damages and service disruptions for utility companies and their customers. 

A rigorous utility investigation involves a thorough and comprehensive assessment of existing underground utilities within a construction project’s area. It goes beyond the standard utility locates and involves in-depth inspections to identify the precise locations, depths, and conditions of these utilities. This investigation aims to provide excavators and construction teams with accurate information to prevent utility damages during the project. Rigorous.Utility.Investigation.2

The Value for Excavators. Excavators are at the forefront of any construction project, and they bear a significant responsibility for preventing utility damages. Here’s how a rigorous utility investigation adds value to their work: 

a.) Enhanced Safety. Safety is paramount in construction, and accurate utility information obtained through a rigorous investigation significantly reduces the risk of accidents and injuries. Excavators can plan their activities with confidence, knowing the exact location of underground utilities. 

b.) Cost Savings. Utility damages can be costly, both in terms of repairs and potential legal consequences. A rigorous utility investigation helps excavators avoid these expenses by preventing damages in the first place. It’s a proactive approach that saves money in the long run. 

c.) Improved Efficiency. Knowing the precise location of utilities streamlines construction operations. Excavators can work efficiently, reducing downtime caused by unexpected utility encounters. This leads to faster project completion and client satisfaction. 

Benefits for Notification Centers. Notification, or 811 Centers play a vital role in coordinating utility locates and promoting damage prevention. They, too, can benefit from a rigorous utility investigation: 

a.) Streamlined Requests. When construction teams provide detailed information from a rigorous investigation, Notification Centers can process locate requests more efficiently. This ensures utility locates are accurate and timely. 

b.) Data Verification. A rigorous investigation can serve as a valuable source of data for Notification Centers. They can cross-check the information provided by construction teams with their records, ensuring accuracy and reducing the chance of errors. 

c.) Education and Outreach. Armed with accurate utility data, Notification Centers can develop targeted education and outreach programs. They can work with construction stakeholders to promote best practices and raise awareness about the importance of damage prevention. 

Overcoming Challenges. Implementing a rigorous utility investigation may face resistance due to perceived costs and delays. However, the long-term benefits far outweigh these concerns. By emphasizing the value that it brings to safety, cost savings, and efficiency, the construction industry can encourage its adoption. 

Incorporating Industry Insights. Utility Scoop highlights the following industry insights: 

a.) Risk Mitigation: Rigorous utility investigations reduce the risk of costly utility damages, ensuring a smoother construction process. 

b.) Efficiency Gains: Access to accurate utility data from the investigation leads to increased efficiency and fewer delays. 

c.) Legal Compliance: Many areas require a thorough utility investigation to comply with regulations, making it a necessary step in project development. 

The value of a rigorous utility investigation for project construction cannot be overstated. It is a proactive and essential step in preventing utility damages and ensuring the safety of construction personnel. Excavators, Notification Centers, and utility operators should recognize the importance of this process and work together to make it a standard practice in the industry. 

By embracing rigorous utility investigations, the utility construction industry can move towards a safer, more efficient, and cost-effective future. It’s time to prioritize this aspect of construction, for the benefit of all involved.

Steven M. Rienks


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