HARRISBURG – In conjunction with National Safe Digging Month, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today reminded residents and businesses of the importance of dialing 8-1-1 before digging to help ensure the safety of their excavation projects. Additionally, Commissioners underscored the “remarkable” work of the Pennsylvania One Call System (PA One Call) and emphasized the need for key legislative enhancements aimed at reducing the number of “hits” on underground infrastructure and better safeguard workers and the general public.
“There are about 6,000 hits reported every year on underground facilities across Pennsylvania, which means that during the average work day, a pipeline or other utility infrastructure is struck once every 20 minutes,” said Commissioner John F. Coleman Jr., who has been a strong supporter of PA One Call and an advocate for safety improvements. “Every one of these incidents poses a danger to contractors, utility workers and nearby residents, along with the possibility of service interruptions, environmental damage and costly repairs to damaged lines.”
PA One Call alerts all utilities within an intended digging area and prompts them to mark where the facilities located on that property. Pennsylvanians can dial 8-1-1 to connect with the system, while non-Pennsylvania residents can dial 1-800-242-1776.
State law requires contractors and residents to contact PA One Call at least three business days prior to excavation, and the system transmits more than 6 million notifications per year – providing protection to more than 100,000 excavators and 3,600 critical facilities owners. For more information on the PA One Call program, visit www.pa1call.org.
In addition to urging all contractors and residents to call 8-1-1 prior to any excavation, the Commission encouraged members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly to take action on legislation intended to enhance safety efforts – removing exemptions from the current law that allow some underground lines to go unmarked, and to enhance enforcement as part of a comprehensive effort to cut the number of incidents by 50 percent by the year 2020.
A recent letter to legislative leaders written by PUC Vice Chairman Andrew G. Place and signed by all five Commissioners underscored the serious safety concerns regarding exemptions to the PA One Call program – noting an explosion last year in Armstrong County that took the life of an equipment operator who was gravely burned when his excavator struck a natural gas pipeline that was not required to be marked.
In addition to removing exemptions from the PA One Call program, the PUC’s recommendations address the following concerns:
Facility owners who do not join PA One Call;
Excavators who do not call before digging;
Facilities owners who do not respond when alerted of a project;
Structural damages that are not reported; and
Violations that are not currently being enforced.
“These improvements are supported by contractors, utilities, municipalities and other stakeholders,” Commission Coleman added, emphasizing that similar recommendations to enhance PA One Call are among the key safety findings of a February 2016 report by the Governor’s Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force.
Additionally, Coleman explained that exemptions in the PA One Call Law also jeopardize funding for pipeline safety programs in Pennsylvania – already resulting in the loss of nearly $300,000 in federal grants and also threatening funding for future years, as long as the exemptions continue.
In a series of statements at today’s PUC public meeting, Chairman Gladys M. Brown, Vice Chairman Andrew G. Place and Commissioner Robert F. Powelson joined Commissioner Coleman’s call for action – including the transfer of enforcement authority for PA One Call to the PUC – noting that the PUC is better equipped than any other state agency to tackle that mission.
“We urge lawmakers to address this important issue as quickly as possible in order to avoid further tragic incidents and to better safeguard the public,” Coleman said. “Overall, we believe these improvements will increase safety and drive down costs for all parties – including consumers, landowners, utilities and contractors – by helping to prevent damage and outages.”
Governor Wolf and leaders from numerous counties across Pennsylvania have proclaimed April to be Pennsylvania One Call System Safe Digging Month, underscoring the invaluable nature of this service.
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission balances the needs of consumers and utilities; ensures safe and reliable utility service at reasonable rates; protects the public interest; educates consumers to make independent and informed utility choices; furthers economic development; and fosters new technologies and competitive markets in an environmentally sound manner.
For recent news releases and video of select Commission proceedings or more information about the PUC, visit our website at www.puc.pa.gov. Follow the PUC on Twitter – @PA_PUC for all things utility. “Like” Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission on Facebook for easy access to information on utility issues.
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