You might be surprised how much goes on beneath the surface of your property. There are the obvious water lines to your home, but they have plenty of company. Utility companies have been running electrical, natural gas, and fiber optic lines underground for years. These might be deep down. They might be surprisingly shallow. But if you hit one while digging, you’re in serious trouble. This is why state laws and federal oversight regulates the 8-1-1 “Call Before You Dig” programs in the United States that require you to learn what might be under that lawn before you break out the shovels.
The Massachusetts “Dig Safe” Law
Dig Safe is a free 8-1-1 communication network with a simple goal: you call them up, they contact the utility companies. Created out of MA’s local version of the “Call Before You Dig” law known as the “Dig Safe” law (you can read the complete law with FAQ on the Mass.gov site here), Dig Safe, Inc. is a New England non-profit funded by the state to interface between diggers and utility companies to make sure that no lines get hit. If you don’t call Dig Safe before digging (or violate any part of the law) you face some stiff fines. From the law:
“If you excavate without calling Dig Safe, or violate any other provision of the Dig Safe Law, you may be fined by the Department of Public Utilities. Civil penalties under the Dig Safe Law are $1,000 for the first offense, and not less than $5,000, nor more than $10,000, for any subsequent offense within 12 consecutive months.”
The Call Before You Dig Process
The process for Dig Safe is pretty straightforward, but requires a little forethought to be ready for, along with a few tools and a little patience. The steps are outlined below:
Pre-mark Your Digging Site
Before you dig, you need to plan out an excavation you’re doing, along with where it will be. This gives an idea of where utilities need to mark (and avoid them marking up the rest of the site). You need to leave pre-marks in white: they can be flags, stakes, or spray paint marks as appropriate.
Gather Necessary Information
It isn’t just calling up and telling your intention: you’ll need to provide information about the site and what you need. Dig Safe has a handy form to fill out ahead of time.
Dial 811 at Least 72 Hours in Advance
In MA you have to call at least 72 hours in advance. These are business days, so don’t count legal holidays and weekends in that time. When you’re done, they should provide a Dig Safe ticket number. Save it.
Now it’s up to the utility representative to mark their lines within your pre-marked area (they’ll use a standard color-coded system).
After the 72 hours have passed, it’s time to dig! Respect the safety zone: mechanized equipment can only dig within 18 inches of a buried line; any closer must be done by hand.
Maintain the Marks
You have to start digging within 30 days of getting your Dig Safe ticket, and can continue indefinitely as long as work continues and the marks are maintained. If you lose a mark and are uncertain where the line is, call 8-1-1 again.
Dig Safe and Contractors
If you’re a home or business owner and have hired contractors to do the excavation, they are responsible for contacting Dig Safe. Make sure your contractor has marked out the project appropriately and has a copy of their Dig Safe ticket before they start digging on your property. Following Dig Safe procedures, as well as proper licenses, is the mark of an experienced and above-the-board excavation contractor. If you’re looking for a contractor in the Massachusetts area, contact New England Excavators and we’ll stop by for planning session on your new project.