Top 3 Safe Digging Tips
April is National Safe Digging Month, which is a nationally recognized awareness month that encourages safe digging practices across the hydro excavation, excavation, and other earth moving fronts. Whether you are doing some serious digging like our clients in the hydro excavation industry, or are a busy earth mover, we’ve compiled a set of tips to make digging safer for everyone.
“There were 531,000 reported incidents of excavation damage in the United States in 2020. The CGA estimates that these incidents resulted in $30 billion in damages and caused 400 injuries and 11 fatalities.”
Common Ground Alliance, 2020 survey
Tip #1. Call before you dig numbers – U.S & Canada.
You don’t know what is lurking below. Doing some research prior to digging can be the difference between life and death; there can be pipes, powerlines, septic and so much more underground.
- In the U.S, call 811 before you dig.
- In Canada, there is a different number province by province.
- British Columbia – BC One Call: 1-800-474-6886
- Alberta – Alberta One-Call Corporation: 1-800-242-3447
- Saskatchewan – Sask 1st Call: 1-866-828-4888
- Manitoba – Click Before You Dig Manitoba: 1-204-480-1212 if you are in Winnipeg, or 1-888-624-9376 outside of Winnipeg
- Ontario – Ontario One Call: 1-800-400-2255
- Quebec – Info-Excavation: 1-800-663-9228
- New Brunswick – One Call Services: 1-866-344-5463
- Nova Scotia – Nova Scotia One Call: 1-866-344-5463
- Prince Edward Island – PEI One Call: 1-866-344-5463
- Newfoundland and Labrador – One Call: 1-866-344-5463
- Internationally, it varies
Tip #2. Wear the Proper PPE
It makes sense to want to have protective wear on hand [no pun intended]. Protective wear when digging is important, because when you are using something with over 4000 PSIs of pressure, you want to protect your extremities. Also, it’s a messy job, with lots of mud and water flying up at you. Gloves are a must [as Jonathan Mendoza, parts manager for Summit Truck Bodies Canada, points out in this helpful video,] as you can pinch your skin super easily, among other potential injuries. Here is a quick list of recommended PPE:
- Waterproof high-vis shirt and pants
- Steel toed waterproof boots
- Hard hat
- Protective eyewear
Tip #3. Use safety enhancing devices.
For Hydrovac Excavation, kill switches (or Dead Man’s Switches) are important to use as a precautionary measure. Not only can a slipup badly injure an operator or even the surrounding environment, but a potential bystander could be injured as well. This can be costly from a number of perspectives; a life lost on the job is a massive tragedy and also a very expensive nightmare for an employer. An injured operator is also costly to a company, as is excessive damage to the surrounding environment or even the truck.
There are several types of safety enhancing kill switches, such as a ball valve, pistol grip, or foot pedal models. There are pros and cons to each; ball valves can be hard to reach or awkward to turn, pistol grips require plenty of force and can also be awkward to reach, while a foot pedal is effective for a pothole style excavation, but something like a trench would be mean dragging this heavy object along with you.
There is the potential of repetitive strain injuries associated with those types of dead man’s switches as well. Rotator cuff injuries, as well as carpal tunnel, are not uncommon with hydrovac operators. There have been reports of operators using ropes and rocks to hold down or tie off switches so they do not have to, which can have deadly consequences.
Aarcomm’s “Smart” Dig Wand attachment offers an alternative to these mechanical approaches. The Smart Dig Wand is a handsfree and wireless add on to a traditional hydrovac wand. It easily hooks on and automatically stops the waterflow if it detects a change in angle or force. The operator can easily switch between horizontal and vertical modes of operation.
National Safe Digging Month is a time to acknowledge the dangers many operators and technicians face daily and ensure they are using the best practices at all times. There are significant costs and risks associated with unsafe digging practices so please, dig smart and dig safe.