When Fiber Construction Goes Wrong

The Common Ground Alliance (CGA) recently issued its 2021 Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT). CGA was founded in 2000 and is an association of companies that engage in underground construction. Members include excavators, locators, road builders, electric companies, telecom companies, oil and gas distribution and transmission, railroads, One Call, municipal public works, equipment manufacturers, State regulators, insurance companies, emergency services, and engineering/design firms. The goal of the CGA is to highlight and reduce damages done to all utilities when working underground.

Here are the current trends discussed in the DIRT report:

  • CGA used statistical models that show that there has been a plateau, or perhaps a tiny decrease in the frequency of damages caused by underground construction since 2019.
  • Calls to locating services increased by 8% in 2021, which CGA believes is a precursor to the construction that will result from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. In past years the frequency of damages has correlated to the overall volume of construction work, so the expectation is that damages due to construction will increase over the next few years.
  • The vast majority of damages (80%) are caused by professional excavators. The rest are caused by individuals and farmers, municipalities, and utilities.
  • The most common source of damages (almost half) is work done by a backhoe.
  • The most commonly damaged infrastructure is natural gas and telecom infrastructure.
  • There were 81,000 damage reports to natural gas systems and 75,000 reports of damage to telecom networks.
  • CGA notes 25 different causes of damage, with six causes accounting for 76% of damage reports.
  • The most prevalent cause of damage (25%) occurs when work is done without first calling to locate other utilities. CGA research says that professional awareness of the need for locating services is high, but 60% of all damages due to no notification are attributed to professional excavators.
  • The next two primary reasons for damages are excavators failing to pothole, failing to maintain sufficient clearance between digging equipment and buried facilities, and facilities not being marked or being marked inaccurately due to locator error and/or incorrect facility records/maps.
  • Nearly a quarter of damages reported by excavators resulted in downtime, so better practices would be a time and money saver.
  • CGA gathered over 217,000 reports of damage in the U.S. in 2021 and another 11,000 in Canada.

This report is an interesting reminder that good work practices can make a big difference in avoiding damage. Fiber construction projects are often brought to a screeching halt when damage is done to existing utilities, particularly gas and water lines. This is well worth reading for anybody associated with construction.

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