HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) today commended members of the General Assembly for crafting and approving legislation focused on enhancing the Pennsylvania One Call System (PA One Call), as part of a statewide effort to reduce the number of “hits” on underground utility infrastructure and better safeguard the public.
“There are about 6,000 reported hits on underground facilities across Pennsylvania every year, which means that a pipeline or other vital utility system is struck once every 20 minutes during the average workday,” noted Commissioner John F. Coleman Jr., who has been a strong advocate for safety improvements. “Our goal from Day One is to cut the number of those incidents by eliminating exemptions and strengthening enforcement, as part of a focused program to reduce risks to our contractors, utility workers and residents.”
The PA One Call system alerts utilities within an intended digging area and prompts them to mark where their facilities are located on that property. State law requires contractors and residents to contact PA One Call at least three business days prior to excavation, but exemptions have allowed some facility owners to not participate in the program and avoid marking their lines – or allowed some excavation to occur without contacting PA One Call – resulting in added risks to contractors and bystanders and, unfortunately, at least one recent deadly accident.
“Speaking from my experience in the industry and as a farmer, I am acutely aware of the potential dangers of underground lines and the dependence workers in the field have in knowing where hazards lie,” PUC Vice Chairman Andrew Place told legislative leaders in a personal plea for enhancements to the PA One Call program. “Strengthening this program will impact both public safety and public confidence in energy and utility development across Pennsylvania.”
Senate Bill 242, which was approved by a 188-1 vote in the State House and 50-0 in the State Senate, addresses past exemptions to the PA One Call law. Additionally, the legislation shifts enforcement authority to the PUC, which will use a dedicated enforcement team and “damage prevention program” modeled after other successful state efforts, to target a 50% reduction in hits within the next five years.
“We thank Senator Baker for her prime sponsorship of this important legislation and the General Assembly for addressing this key safety issue,” said PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown. “This is a step forward for utility, contractor and consumer safety in Pennsylvania and we will now turn our attention to implementing these improvements.”
The PUC has been a strong advocate for changes in the PA One Call program aimed at addressing key concerns, such as:
Facility owners who do not join PA One Call;
Excavators who do not call before digging;
Entities who do not respond when alerted of a project;
Structural damages that are not reported; and
Violations that are not enforced.
“Hits on underground utility systems are not only a hazard to workers and bystanders, but also result in service interruptions, possible environmental damage and costly repairs to damaged lines – which drives up the cost of utility service for everyone,” said Commissioner David W. Sweet. “The improvements to the PA One Call law are the result of a collaborative effort by legislators, contractors, utilities, municipalities and other stakeholders, all with a shared goal of making Pennsylvania a safer place to live and work.”
For more information on the PA One Call program, visit www.pa1call.org.
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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