How to Dig Safely Near Underground Utilities

Before you begin any excavation project, there are a few things you need to do to ensure a safe and successful job.

How to Begin Your Project Safely

One of the most important is to call 811, which is the national number for the underground utility locator service.

This service will come out and mark the approximate location of any underground electric, gas, water, sewer, or telecommunications lines in your area. 

Once you have the all-clear from 811, you can begin your digging project with peace of mind knowing that you won’t accidentally damage any vital underground lines. 

Once you have called 811 and received the go-ahead from the utility locator service, it’s time to begin your excavation project. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you get started:

1. Always use hand tools when excavating near utilities.

When excavating near utilities, always use hand tools instead of power tools. Power tools can create sparks that may ignite a gas line and cause an explosion.

Stick to using hand shovels, rakes, and picks whenever possible. If you have to use power tools, make sure the blades are non-sparking. By following these safety precautions, you can help prevent accidents and injuries. 

While most people think of excavating as simply digging a hole, there is actually quite a bit of planning and preparation that goes into it. First, you need to determine the purpose of the excavation and the type of soil you’ll be dealing with.

Then, you need to choose the right type of equipment for the job. And finally, you need to take safety precautions to protect yourself and others. 

Excavating is a dirty and dangerous job, but it’s an essential part of many construction projects. By following safety precautions and using the right equipment, you can help ensure a successful excavation.

2. Create a “safe zone” around the area you will be excavating.

One of the most important safety precautions to take when excavating is to create a safe zone around the dig site. This zone should extend at least two feet from the excavation area in all directions.

By establishing this buffer zone, you can help to prevent accidents if you inadvertently strike a buried line while digging. In addition, the safe zone will provide extra space for storing excavation equipment and materials. It is also important to keep the safe zone clear of debris and other obstacles that could trip up workers or cause other accidents.

By following these simple safety guidelines, you can help to ensure a successful and safe excavation project.

3. Never dig without first checking for buried cables or pipelines.

Every year, countless people unwittingly damage buried cables and pipelines while digging in their yards. This can result in costly repairs, as well as safety hazards. So before you break ground on your next project, be sure to check for buried lines. A metal detector or probe rod can help you locate any buried cables or pipelines.

In the United States, there are an estimated 20 million miles of underground utility lines. This critical infrastructure of underground utilities provides us with electricity, natural gas, telecommunications, and other vital services. 

Every day, construction crews and homeowners alike rely on these buried lines. However, they are also susceptible to damage from excavation work. In fact, excavation is the leading cause of pipeline damage in the U.S., accounting for over 30% of all incidents.

When a buried line is damaged, it can cause serious problems. For example, a natural gas line that is ruptured can lead to an explosion or fire. An electrical line that is severed can result in a power outage or electrocution. And a water line that is damaged can lead to flooding or water contamination.

4. Never assume that utility markings are 100% accurate.

Utility companies work hard to ensure that their lines are accurately marked. However, there is always a possibility of error. Therefore, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and assume that marked lines are live until proven otherwise by a certified professional. 

While utility companies make every effort to accurately mark their lines, there are a number of factors that can contribute to errors. For instance, lines may be improperly marked due to human error or damage to markings over time. In addition, underground lines can shift over time, further complicating matters. 

If you’re ever unsure about the status of a utility line, the best course of action is to contact the utility company directly. They will be able to provide you with accurate information and help you stay safe. 

In summary, never assume that utility markings are 100% accurate. Always err on the side of caution and assume that marked lines are live until proven otherwise. If you have any doubts, contact the utility company for more information.

5. Use caution when dealing with unknown materials.

Use caution when dealing with unknown materials. If you come across something buried in your excavation area that you can’t identify, assume that it is a utility line and take appropriate precautions accordingly. 

Unknown substances should be treated with care and disposed of properly to ensure that they don’t pose a threat to the environment or to public health. 

If you come into contact with a substance that you can’t identify, it’s important to wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water. If you experience any adverse effects after coming into contact with the substance, seek medical attention immediately. 

Remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry when dealing with unknown materials. If you take the necessary precautions, you can avoid potential hazards and keep yourself, the environment, and the public safe.

6. Be prepared for inclement weather conditions.

If severe weather is predicted in your area (such as high winds or thunderstorms), call 811 and ask them to put a “weather hold” on your ticket number until conditions improve. This will ensure that no one accidentally damages your exposed lines during bad weather conditions. 


Excavation projects can be dangerous if not done correctly—but they don’t have to be! By following these simple tips, you can ensure a safe and successful job every time. And remember: if in doubt, always call 811 before beginning any excavation project large or small!