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Ground Rules for Safe Digging

Ground Rules for Safe Digging

Image shows a guilty-looking black and white dog with golden eyes crouched next to a dug-up bed of yellow, purple and pink flowers.April 23, 2024

Spring is a time for home improvement projects, so it’s no coincidence that April is National Safe Digging Month. Even shallow digging—think planting a rosebush—can damage utility lines that may be located only a few inches underground.

If you’re planning any residential or commercial digging project, always contact 811 first. It’s a free, easy way to make your experience safe and hassle-free. From homeowners to construction crews, everyone is required by law to contact 811 before scheduling any digging.

https://call811.com/Start-Here/Excavators
https:/call811.com/Start-Here/Homeowners

You can also create an 811 notification ticket online. For Maryland and D.C., visit MissUtility.net; in Virginia, visit VA811.com. Click the Homeowner links to get started.

When you contact 811, local utility experts like Washington Gas will step in. They'll visit your property and mark the location of underground utilities. This critical step is your best defense against hitting gas, water, electric or other buried lines, which can lead to dangerous situations and costly repairs.

For smaller projects, current regulations require that you use only manual hand tools to dig within two feet of each side of marked utility locations. For larger-scale contractor excavations, use extra caution because the markings may not indicate specific digging areas. 

Your diligence matters! Third-party utility strikes create public safety hazards and cost billions of damaged utilities annually. The 2022 DIRT Report from Common Ground Alliance (CGA) confirms that failure to notify before digging continues to be the most persistent cause of damage. More than 230,000 reports were filed across the United States in 2022 alone.

Image shows map of United States with locations of utility strikes in 2022 marked in red. Courtesy of Common Ground Alliance.

From small homeowner projects to full-scale construction, failure to contact 811 before digging remains the most significant single root cause of all third-party strikes, per CGA. YOU are the first line of defense in keeping people and property safe.

After contacting 811 and receiving a confirmation email, you can access the Washington Gas Enhanced Positive Response system. Our online safety tool provides detailed information about your proposed digging site, including photos, mapping, and a copy of the 811 ticket.

Have you wondered if those colored flags and marks in yards and alongside roadways have special meanings? They do, as you can see in the chart below.   

Image shows a grid of color meanings for underground utility flags and markings.

We proudly provide this industry-leading technology to improve safety as you complete your projects. We also offer free damage prevention training. To schedule a session, contact the Washington Gas Damage Prevention Training at 703-750-5128.

A frequent reason for not contacting 811 is, “This is a small project. I won’t hit anything.” However, depending on local guidelines, utilities such as cable and telecom conduit lines may be buried only about a foot deep. Factors such as erosion, runoff and subsidence—settling and sinking of the Earth’s surface caused by subsurface movement—reduce original soil margins even more.

Many home gardening projects can easily strike buried utilities. For example, consider the following recommended planting depths from the University of Florida: 5-6” for garlic, 6-8” for daffodils and 16” for a tree with a 1” diameter trunk. While some wires and cables may be encased by protective conduits, a shovel blade or pick can still crack or penetrate this material and create potentially life-threatening damage.

A Focus on Future Safety

Contacting 811 and following careful digging practices can prevent accidents and damage today, but they’re only part of a much larger underground safety story. Washington Gas is pursuing a thoughtful, risk-based approach to pipeline replacements throughout the DMV. Our work enhances safety, reliability and affordability.

For example, Washington, D.C. depends on 400 miles of cast iron—or one-third of its mains—to meet its energy needs. This infrastructure must be replaced in the coming years to support safety and reliability.

Our three large-scale accelerated pipe replacement programs—PROJECTpipes, STRIDE and SAVE—replaced almost 40 miles of pipelines in 2023 alone. It’s part of our strategic investment of $1.7 billion over the next five years in pipeline modernization. Our long-term goal is to maintain the safety of our pipeline systems as part of a commitment to reliably serving our customers now and for years to come.

Happy National Safe Digging Month! Thank you for practicing safe digging every day and helping to keep our communities safe. 


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