In October 2020, Common Ground Alliance (CGA) published its 2019 Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) Report, which analysed all 2019 data submitted voluntarily by facility operators, utility locating companies, one call centers, contractors, regulators and others from the U.S. and Canada. Mentioned here are a few critical takes from the report.
As shown by an all-time high of 534,151 damage reports entered into DIRT, the current situation is not good. The estimate of total damages in the US increased 4.5% year-over-year, mirroring a 4.5% increase in damages per million dollars of construction spending. Interesting enough, the number of transmissions per construction dollar spent rose during 2019, perhaps indicating stress on the damage prevention system.
Over 2019 alone, the societal costs of damages to buried utilities in the U.S. was estimated at $30 billion. This estimate accounts for direct costs (facility repair) and indirect costs (property damage, medical bills, businesses unable to operate, etc.). Although all stakeholders have a clear interest in reducing damage to buried utilities as a means of reducing these enormous societal costs, this is still an immense challenge.
Failure to notify the one call center / 811 remains the largest individual damage root cause, but the root cause groupings of excavation issues, locating issues, and the invalid use of locate requests all appear roughly equal, suggesting that improvements are needed in every step of the safe excavation process in order to reverse the damage trend.
Based on the root cause groupings analysis (found in this report), it is recommended that focusing on damage prevention practices at each step of the safe excavation process is necessary to drive damages down. The following are the first set of recommendations in this regard:
- Address potholing and excavating in the tolerance zone. The Best Practices Committee should review Practices 5.19 and 5.20 to determine if more practical hands-on language could be developed, including a definition of “potholing.” The Next Practices Advisory Committee should examine this issue.
- Examine pressures on locators. The volume of locate requests and subsequent one call transmissions are rising: each dollar of construction spending appears to be resulting in more locate requests and transmissions than in years prior. Mis-marks due to locator error appear as a top root cause in the locating group, suggesting that locate ticket volume is often a challenge for locate technicians.
- Emphasize the proper use of locate requests. Changes to the DIRT form in 2018 have resulted in a clearer picture of the ‘Invalid Use of Locate Request’ damage root cause group. Top damage drivers in this group include digging before the valid start date/time and digging after a ticket expired, pointing to the need to ensure that requests are being utilized properly to prevent poor safety outcomes.
- Develop strategies for addressing persistent no-call damages. No Locate Request remains the single largest individual damage root cause, despite 811 and call-before-you-dig awareness reaching an all-time high (SOURCE: CGA’s 2020 Public Awareness Survey). Additional research into the no-call group could help better address this damage category.
- Explore all opportunities for improvements to the damage prevention process – both modifications to individual stakeholder performance, enhancements to the current system as well as potential structural changes and innovative solutions to address persistent challenges. Rising damages, increasing locate request volume and roughly equivalent root cause groups suggest the need to evaluate the system.
Additional recommendations based on DIRT data include:
- Increase the quantity and quality of DIRT submissions. While DIRT submissions reached an all time high this year, submitters whose Data Quality Index (DQI) score is below 70 should focus on improving the completeness of their forms. Additionally, root cause analysis should focus not on damage liability, but rather on the true point in the process where a change in behaviour could have prevented damage.
- Use the new Interactive Dashboard to explore damage data. Reported damages from 2019 and 2018 are displayed via a new PowerBI dashboard that makes it easier than ever to drill down into DIRT data that is most applicable or actionable for your organization.
- Read the Case Studies from North Carolina 811 and National Grid. In Appendices F and G, North Carolina 811 and National Grid share how they used DIRT data to reduce damages, which may prove inspirational for your organization.
- Adopt new technologies to help prevent damages. Technology has greatly advanced over the last 20 years. Consult the CGA Technology Report and explore ways to use technologies to reduce damages by improving one call center processes, locating and excavating practices, and communication in the field.