With the weather getting warmer and a worldwide pandemic confining many of us to our homes, spring landscaping projects are likely in full swing. Chances are these projects will require digging, either with a shovel or something more powerful. So, it’s no coincidence that April is National Safe Digging Month and April 22-26 is Locator Safety Awareness Week.
Safe Digging Month is intended to remind us to call 8-1-1 or click at Colorado811.org at least 72 hours before any excavating project -- even those that only involve hand shovels -- to have buried utility lines marked. Not taking these simple steps can put lives at risk or jeopardize our pocketbooks with large fines.
Whenever we contact 811, carefully-trained specialists – called locators – are dispatched to our address. That’s why April 22-26 brings focus to the dedicated individuals who help make our digging projects safe.
Colorado Springs Utilities employs 22 full-time, in-house locators who undergo more than three years of training to help keep you, your neighbors and themselves safe. In all, these 22 locators respond to approximately 72,000 locating requests annually across the city.
With a high-volume of work that includes state-mandated response times and enormous safety implications, it’s easy to wonder what motivates someone to become a locator.
“Many people are drawn to the locating profession because of a desire to work autonomously and outdoors,” says Fred Hankinson, utilities locating supervisor. “Our locators are also tremendously committed to the safety of our customers and employees, so despite the high volume of work and the stresses that go along with that, they’re a group that fully embraces the role.”
Springs Utilities locators exclusively mark underground natural gas, electric, water, wastewater and fiber optic lines owned and maintained by the organization. Cable, phone and other underground utilities are marked by private locating contractors and are unaffiliated with Springs Utilities.
According to Hankinson, the benefits of having an in-house locating team for Springs Utilities’ owned and maintained infrastructure cannot be overstated.
“Having our own locating team enables us to incorporate a more intensive and hands-on training system, to include a dedicated locating trainer,” says Hankinson. “Our locating team also has an inherent pride and ownership of our infrastructure, and maintain close relationships with all of our departments. Having these relationships and possessing this organizational knowledge are critical factors for our team to effectively and safely serve a large and complex four-service utility.”
According to Shelly Dornick, damage prevention supervisor, customers can help locators in two primary ways.
“Obviously, we want customers to contact 811 before any digging project. It’s free and convenient, and well worth the few minutes it takes to request the locates,” says Dornick. “Also, homeowners should remember that locators will need access to utility service meters and should have gates unlocked and pets secured until locates are complete.”