utility locating

Trenchless Technology and the Benefit of Utility Locating

Trenchless projects offer a variety of benefits to installers and landowners, including minimizing the street level disturbances that can affect nearby residences and businesses. However, these benefits can quickly be lost when construction crews don’t take the time to properly locate underground utility lines prior to the start of a project.

You might not be digging a full trench, but knowing what’s underground is still essential to getting the job done smoothly and safely. In fact, when planning a bore or dig, your first step should always be to map out and understand the full scope of the underground infrastructure. Where are the sewer lines, gas lines and more? What else is down there that you don’t know about? Answering these questions ahead of time helps crews properly plan their start and finish holes in a way that ensures no other lines get damaged in the process. More importantly: This type of planning helps to reduce the risk of serious safety issues that can result from damaged utility lines.

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Safety Benefits

Today’s utility locating equipment can give you highly accurate visibility into cross bores with gas lines, helping you avoid potentially dangerous and life-threatening scenarios. According to the Cross Bore Safety Association, in sewers alone it is estimated that thousands of cross bores of gas lines exist. Decades ago — and prior to the advent of utility locating — millions of miles of sewers were installed with trenchless technologies. Consequently, utility lines were often run nearby. This proximity can lead to problems: If one of these sewer lines becomes blocked, removing the blockage could damage the gas line and create an explosion risk. This type of cross bore can also increase infiltration and inflow of water into sewers. This can lead to structural issues and possible sinkholes or voids. Buried electrical lines can also be lethal when damaged. Accurate identification prior to any work being done is essential to protecting people and property.

Trenchless Technology and the Benefit of Utility Locating

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Infrastructure Benefits

In addition to keeping crews and communities safe, utility locating can help you prevent damage to lines and cross bores. The key to successfully locating lines is accuracy, reliability, visibility and trust in your locating equipment.

There’s good news when it comes to finding these features: The latest technology and software advancements mean utility locating options are continuing to improve. For example, some locators can be paired with apps on smart devices to overlay utility lines on to a Google map. This mapping can then be saved for future reference. Advancements like these will continue to improve job site safety, productivity and accuracy to keep jobs on time and budget.

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Getting the Most Out of Your Equipment

Whatever kind of utility locating equipment you’re using – locators, transmitters or inductive clamps – understanding their functionality and the procedure for locating different types of lines is important. The types of tools may not change from jobsite to jobsite, but the process will. For example, some buried lines cannot be tracked if you cannot directly connect a transmitter to charge the line. Inductive clamps are another way to activate a utility line so the locator can identify and map the trenchless project.

Regardless of jobsite, keep these things in mind to enhance safety:

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  • Whenever possible, use a locator accurate enough to enhance efficiency while also providing enough detailed information for you to be confident that you have located your target utility.

  • Regardless of locator, a high-quality transmitter is your most important piece of equipment. Having ample power to illuminate poor conductors is necessary, but it is not all about power. You also want the ability to select a wide range of frequencies and power levels to tailor the signal you apply to the environment.

  • Invest in an induction signal clamp to safely energize conduits you might not want to direct connect to and a hot stick to safely add an induction clamp.

  • Awareness of your environment begins with being knowledgeable about the infrastructure and industry you are working in. Understanding the types of transmission materials and their joining methods is important to determining how you get a good traceable circuit.

  • Jobsite environment is a big factor in successful locating. You must remember that locating a utility requires locating moving electrons on a conductor. How efficiently those electrons move determines the strength of field you must locate and its accuracy. Soil conditions, the existence and/or quality of far end ground, and the conductor itself all play a role. For example, in areas with dry sandy soil where it can be difficult to create a proper circuit, pouring water around the ground stake can improve the circuit. Sometimes, using a larger grounding stake than the one provided with most transmitters improves the circuit.

Personal knowledge of the utility infrastructure and the jobsite cannot be discounted. The skills acquired in the field are just as important as the tools being used. The equipment is only as good as the operator. This is not a job that should be rushed. Trust the instrument to do its job and confirm or negate personal assumptions. Combining personal experience and instincts with the locator’s readings will determine where a utility is located.

Taking the time to incorporate utility locating into a project plan, understanding the tools being used and attributes of a particular jobsite can go a long way in ensuring a safe jobsite.

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Jeff Albertini is the global marketing manager, diagnostics, inspecting and locating for RIDGID, a part of Emerson’s professional tools portfolio that also includes the Greenlee brand.

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