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DHR - SAFETY ALERT MEMO 96-05

DATE: April 15, 1996

INCIDENT TYPE: Close Call

LOCATION: District 1

TYPE OF WORK ACTIVITY: Sign Placement

THE ACCIDENT: On Saturday, January 27, 1996, at approximately 1:00 p.m. a District 1 sign crew conducted a scheduled sign placement on Highway 299 near Arcata. The location of the sign had been called in to Underground Service Alert (USA). When the crew arrived, the location of an underground telephone cable had been marked. Since there were no other markings, it was assumed that there were no other underground utilities. As the operator was boring a hole with a truck mounted auger, the auger struck and ruptured a 6 inch natural gas main. Fortunately, no injuries resulted from this accident.

CONCLUSIONS: The Pacific Gas & Electric Co. had failed to mark the location of their gas main as required by law. State law also requires that anyone performing any digging or excavation notify a regional notification center (such as USA) at least two working days before work is begun. Anyone damaging an underground utility is liable for all loss of revenue and repair costs. For underground fiber optic cables, revenue loss can be as high as $1,000,000 per hour and repair costs average $50,000. Since USA was called and the location of this gas main was not marked, Caltrans was not liable for any costs related to its repair.

RECOMMENDATIONS: Always call the regional notification center for your area before any digging or excavation work. The phone numbers for several of these notification centers are in the Maintenance Manual, Volume 1, Chapter 8, Protection of Workers, Section 8.40, Working Near Utilities. As this accident illustrates, this is still no guarantee that underground utilities are not present. Develop and periodically review procedures to be followed if an underground utility is damaged. Electronic locators are also available for detecting underground utilities. As a result of this accident, electronic locators were purchased for District 1 sign crews.

HEADQUARTERS OFFICE OF SAFETY AND HEALTH (916) 227-2640

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