How to Safely Excavate in Urban Settings
Safe excavation in urban settings is crucial for protecting workers, the public, surrounding structures, and critical facilities infrastructure. Vacuum excavators are an effective tool for non-destructive excavation in these densely populated areas and it is important to be familiar with certain safety guidelines to ensure a successful and safe excavation.
First and foremost, safe digging is always about preparation. Before beginning any excavation work, place a call to the state’s 811 call center, or make an online request two to three days before the work start date, inspect your equipment, and form a plan. This includes preparing a site survey to locate and mark any underground utilities. Not taking these necessary preliminary steps can result in unintended damage to subsurface utilities and pose a serious risk to your crew, bystanders, damage to equipment, nearby structures, and existing infrastructure.
Once the site has been cleared and marked, the next step is to develop a site-specific safety plan. This plan should outline the excavation process, identify potential hazards, and establish procedures for an emergency response. Workers should be trained in these procedures and be familiar with the equipment they will be using. A trusted resource of best practices is available online from the Common Ground Alliance (CGA). The CGA updates its Best Practices Guide regularly to include advances in damage prevention inspired by the always-evolving technologies that are at the core of progress in our industry.
The goal of digging safely by “daylighting” buried utilities in the ground can also apply to urban job sites. Often, tall city buildings create “canyons” that limit natural light at street level during a typical workday. Additional steps should be taken in these urban excavation areas to utilize high-lumen work lights to ensure that workers and bystanders can see what is happening in and around the excavation site. When using a vacuum excavator, it is also important to mark off the excavation area clearly with cones or barriers to prevent unauthorized access.
In constricted and highly trafficked metropolitan areas, the compact TRUVAC ParaDIGm® vacuum excavator combines all the functionality and performance of a traditional large vacuum excavator, with the versatility of a multi-purpose work truck, to install, maintain, and repair underground urban utilities. The trademarked Park-N-Dig® feature reduces setup and tear down time between excavated holes, significantly increasing productivity of this air and/or water vacuum excavator, including the ability to dig up to six feet in depth without additional pipe and hose.
In dense urban areas, where a large amount of telecommunications infrastructure critical to communities and commerce is found, another ParaDIGm water system feature is the patented DigRight® technology that allows an operator to select a maximum water pressure limit to prevent the pressure from exceeding site or industry requirements when performing hydro excavation. DigRight increases safety, adheres to industry recognized best practices, and allows the operator to focus on the application. Limiting the psi using DigRight can greatly reduce the likelihood of destructive incidents or damage to underground cable and telecom facilities, plentiful under city streets.
The air compressor, standard on the ParaDIGm, is able to power utility tools such as jackhammers and tampers that may be used on the job. The truck features substantial storage space for these tools, as well as space to store necessary safety equipment, such as hard hats, hearing protection, and safety glasses for workers. Shoring or trench boxes should also be stowed on the truck to prevent collapse and protect workers in the excavation area. Develop and use a rigorous safety checklist to check and review vacuum excavator operation, as well as the presence of on-board safety equipment, before traveling to the job site.
On the job site, a designated person should be in charge of site safety and regularly inspect the excavation area for potential hazards. This includes checking the equipment and ensuring that workers are following safe excavation practices.
Safe excavation in urban settings requires thorough utility locating preparation, implementing equipment designed to be quick and easy, and following best safety practices. The common goal, no matter whether locating utilities in rural or urban areas, is to prevent damage to underground utilities and reduce the number of strikes year over year.
Dustin Rhodes is a TRUVAC Product Manager