RICHMOND — April is National Safe Digging Month. Whether it’s a property occupant planting a tree or erecting a fence, or large excavation companies building highways, strip malls and subdivisions, preventing damage to underground utility lines when digging or demolishing makes good sense.
For more than 20 years, the State Corporation Commission (SCC) has enforced the Virginia Underground Utility Damage Prevention Act (Act). SCC Division of Utility and Railroad Safety’s senior trainer Frank Hudik said, “When the requirements of the Act are properly followed, it will help prevent damage to underground utility lines.” Virginia has a nationally recognized damage prevention program summed up in the message, “Dig With C.A.R.E. Keep Virginia Safe!” C.A.R.E. means:
- Call 811 before you dig.
- Allow the required
time for marking.
- Respect and
protect the marks.
- Excavate carefully.
The consequences of damaging an underground utility line can be very serious and range from loss of essential utility services to personal injury or worse!
Calling 811 connects you to VA811, the state’s one-call notification center which operates Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., excluding legal state and national holidays. Emergency notification service is available 365 days a year, 24 hours a day.
When VA811 receives a call concerning digging or a demolition, trained staff will ask for important information about the planned work and then notify member utility operators that may have underground utility lines in your project area. Utility operators will respond by sending locators to your project area within the time allowed by law to mark the approximate horizontal location on the ground within two feet of the underground utility lines by means of paint, stakes or flags. There is no cost for this service. Once marked, hand digging is required within 24 inches of these marks plus the width of the utility line if known. This area is referred to as the tolerance zone.
Any person excavating or demolishing within the tolerance zone where an underground utility line may be destroyed, damaged, dislocated or disturbed shall take all reasonable steps necessary to properly protect, support and backfill the underground utility lines. In the event that during your excavation or demolition an underground utility line is damaged, including its appurtenances, covering and coating, immediately notify the operator of the underground utility line.
If the damage of the underground utility line creates an emergency, take immediate steps to safeguard life, health and property. In the event that damage to an underground utility line results in the escape of any flammable, toxic, hazardous or corrosive gas or liquid, promptly report the damage to the appropriate authorities by dialing 911.
To learn more about Virginia’s damage prevention program, contact the SCC Division of Utility and Railroad Safety at (804) 371-9980, or visit the Division’s website at