Excavation stage one-call notifications: the best call you will ever make

William E. Balin
Vice President/COO
The Pipeline Group
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Presenter, 2007 APWA Congress

The excavation stage one-call notification, otherwise known as a construction stage notification, dig notification, routine notification, or just plain "The One-Call" is the best call that you will ever make when preparing to carry out an excavation project. By making the call, not only will the concerned excavator save time and money in the long run, but will protect their person, save lives, and protect property. According to the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) "Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) Report" for 2004, on a national level, "48% of the facility damages occurred when excavators did not notify the One-Call notification center"(1); furthermore, "58.2%"(2) of the damages that occurred as a result of no notification was to the natural gas facility.

To understand what constitutes an excavation we will look at the Virginia Underground Utility Damage Prevention Act, which states, "'Excavate' or 'excavation' means any operation in which earth, rock, or other material in the ground is moved, removed, or otherwise displaced by means of any tools, equipment, or explosives and includes, without limitation, grading, trenching, digging, ditching, dredging, drilling, auguring, tunneling, scraping, cable or pipe plowing and driving, wrecking, razing, rendering, moving, or removing any structure or mass of material."(3) While excavation generally excludes hand digging as a part of its definition, I would contend that one could puncture an underground pipeline or sever an underground cable as quickly and easily with a pick, shovel, or by pounding in a stake as quickly as one could cause this damage with mechanized equipment. Therefore, no matter how a person intends to disturb the earth, they should always call before they dig. According to the CGA Best Practices Version 3.0, "Currently 48 states have passed one-call legislation and have established one-call notification systems recognizing that excavation performed without prior notification poses a risk to public safety, excavators, the environment, and disruption of vital services provided by facility operators."(4)

However, the process is more involved than just making the call. There are several other steps that one must take in the excavation stage notification process. Considering that the pre-construction meeting has already taken place (for more information on pre-design and pre-construction meetings, please see the previous article in this series titled "Pre-design/pre-construction meetings: a necessary step in damage prevention"; the article has been published in the Excavator Safety Guide 2005 and 2006 and also in the APWA Reporter, September 2005 issue), the excavator has to take additional action before, during, and after the call that will make the entire process both prosperous and safe.

First off, before making the one-call, the excavator must first gather as much information as possible about the excavation site. This includes but is not limited to the following: State, County, City/Municipality, Street, Nearest Intersecting Street, and Second Intersecting Street (if possible). In addition, include permanent landmarks, GPS coordinates, and any additional information that will assist the facility owner line locator to find your proposed excavation site that is available. The next step after gathering all of the location information and prior to making the dig notification is to ensure that the excavation location is clearly marked in white. The utilization of white paint, flags, or other medium should be used 100% of the time. A few reasons for use of white pre-marks include but are not limited to the following:

  1. The utilization of white paint leaves no doubt as to the location of the ensuing excavation. I was once told by an excavator that he had to call the one-call center several times on the same job because the facility locator kept locating the wrong side of the street that his excavation was to take place. He wanted to know what to do to get the proper area located. My simple answer was for him to use white paint; that way the locators would know exactly where he was going to be excavating.

  2. The locators will be more accurate and complete the job more expediently when white paint is utilized. Not only will the line locate be more accurate because the facility locator is not guessing as to the exact location, but the locator will be able to finish the work more expediently and move on to the next job site thus making the process more efficient and provide the locator with the ability to complete more locates in a shorter period of time.

  3. There will be a decrease in what is now being termed industrial graffiti. Many residents are complaining about the "eye sore" of colored paint on the streets and sidewalks of their neighborhoods. These eye sores can and will be reduced with the use of white paint because locators can be more precise with the size of the area that they are marking. In addition, by reducing industrial graffiti, the need for ordinances requiring the person to remove the paint will be eliminated.

Secondly, during the call, ensure that all of the information that has been previously gathered is properly passed along to the one-call center representative. This information will be read back to you as it is placed on the one-call ticket by the call service representative (CSR).

Once you have verified that all of the information that you have been provided has been received correctly, the CSR will ask if you would like a list of the members that will be notified to be read back to you. When this question is asked, say "YES" so you will have a list in hand of the facilities from which you should expect to see markings or get a clear no facilities in the area message.

There are a couple of points that need to be made at this time and are as follows:

  1. Each excavator on a job should have their own one-call ticket number prior to excavating.

  2. The One-Call center will only notify its member facility owners. In the case of a facility owner not being a member of the call center, you will have to make that notification on your own and in addition to the one-call.

  3. The One-Call center does not locate or mark underground facility lines; the member facility owner line locators do the locating or the facility owner subcontracts the locating to specialized facility locating companies.

Upon completion of this process, you will be given a one-call ticket number. Keep this ticket number handy as it is not only your proof that you made the one-call, but will give the call center a quick reference if the need should arise to retrieve the ticket in its entirety.

Finally, once all of the lines have been marked, the excavator is responsible for the markings. In fact, according to the CGA Best Practices, "The excavator protects and preserves the staking, marking or other designations for underground facilities until no longer required for proper and safe excavation. The excavator stops excavating and notifies the one-call center for re-marks if any facility mark is removed or no longer visible."(5) Once the aforementioned process is completed and you have waited the required amount of time, which will vary by state (see the individual state one-call websites and/or the state call before you dig law for more information on the time frames), you may begin your excavation.

In conclusion, the one-call excavation notification not only will save you time and money, but it will save lives and property. Plainly stated, making the call is the safest thing to do!

William E. Balin is the chairman of the One-Call Systems International (OCSI) Education Committee. He will give a presentation at the 2007 APWA Congress entitled "Construction Stage One-Calls: The Most Prudent Form of Damage Prevention—and—It's the Law!" The session takes place on Tuesday, September 11, at 3:45 p.m. He can be reached at (877) 933-7370 (ext. 224) or bill.balin@pipelinegroup.com.


(1) CGA - REPORT: Analysis and Recommendations for Calendar Year 2004

(2) CGA - REPORT: Analysis and Recommendations for Calendar Year 2004

(3) Virginia Underground Utility Damage Prevention Act - Section 56-265.15.

(4) Common Ground Alliance Best Practices Version 3.0, Page 39, Section 5-1

(5) Common Ground Alliance Best Practices Version 3.0, Page 43, Section 5-17