What’s on your project list? Are you planting a tree, installing a fence or building a new deck? Perhaps you’ve even made arrangements to rent that post-hole digger, and you’re all ready to go, right?

Well, not so quick. Make sure you haven’t forgotten an important factor before you contemplate digging: underground utilities. You certainly don’t want to find out by accident that utilities are buried in your yard. Before you dig, please call the toll-free 811 line to have underground utilities mapped. The mapping service is free.

Digging without calling can result in service disruption to an entire subdivision, harm you and those around you and potentially result in fines and repair costs. While natural gas and electric lines may be foremost in mind, remember that underground utilities also may include water, sewer, cable television, fiber optic or telephone lines. Even if there are no injuries, the resulting utility outage can be a costly and unnecessary nuisance. It’s not the recommended choice for meeting neighbors for most of us!

The Common Ground Alliance (CGA), a utility industry organization dedicated to preventing damage to underground utilities and ensuring public safety, collects statistics about underground utility damage incidents. The most recent report for 2016 shows the societal impact of damages to utilities was nearly $1.5 billion. There were 379,000 incidents of underground utility damage in the U.S. during that year.

While the rate of damages due to “notification NOT made” is down significantly in recent years, thanks to greater awareness, the estimated total U.S. damages increased nearly 20 percent since 2015.

Your homeowner insurance policy will likely provide liability coverage, up to the limit of your policy, for damage to others in the event you have an accident. But it’s always better to prevent an incident.

In most jurisdictions, a professional contractor you hired to complete a project is responsible for making the call to report a planned dig. But homeowners and other do-it-yourselfers also share responsibility for protecting underground utilities.

Every project, no matter how small, warrants a call:
•Planting trees or hedges
•Setting fence or mailbox posts
•Excavating for ponds, pools or concrete constructions
•Placing decking supports
•Installing non-visible pet barriers

When you call the centralized 811 number, you are connected to the “one call” service in your state. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and some Canadian provinces operate these services, allowing a customer’s single call to alert all affected utility providers. Additional information is available at call811.com, and in some areas you can submit information online rather than through a phone call.

Once you notify 811 of your dig – at least two but no more than 10 business days in advance – the appropriate utility representatives mark your property within 72 hours.

You can identify marked hazards by the color of the flags or paint:
•Red – Electric
•Orange – Communications, Telephone/CATV
•Blue – Potable Water
•Green – Sewer/Drainage
•Yellow – Gas/Petroleum Pipe Line
•Purple – Reclaimed Water
•White – Premark site of intended excavation

Before you begin your excavation, remember to call 811 to have underground utilities mapped. You’ll protect yourself and your property, and maintain good relations with your neighbors.

This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article. Contact Landmark Risk Management & Insurance for insurance coverage information.