Transmission Professionals Group
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10 Quick Tips for Completing Underground Utility Maintenance
- Feb 17, 2023 8:26 pm GMT
Underground utility maintenance is one of the most challenging aspects of this work. It’s also critical, so it’s important to approach it with a thorough understanding of efficiency, regulatory compliance and safety steps. Here are 10 quick tips for completing underground maintenance on utility lines.
1. Notify Public Utilities Before Working
The first step in any underground utility maintenance operation is to notify the proper authorities. More than one-quarter of underground infrastructure damage stems from a failure to notify 811 centers, and 60% of these cases come from professional excavators.
Regardless of how experienced a team is or how well they know the area’s utility systems, they must notify public utilities before working. This simple step could reveal important information about lines and conditions and ensure everything is shut off to prevent injury. In many areas, failure to notify these authorities could result in legal charges and fines.
2. Communicate Potential Interruptions
Similarly, maintenance workers should communicate with nearby businesses, construction teams and residents about their work. Repairing underground water, gas or electrical lines could interrupt vital services to these other parties. Failure to inform them may not be as weighty a legal issue as notifying 811, but it can harm a firm’s public perception or create safety concerns.
Nearby residents or businesses that try to use this infrastructure while it’s out of service could cause malfunctions. Some may try to solve the issue themselves and create further problems. Informing everyone of potential interruptions beforehand will enable an easier process for all parties.
3. Learn and Watch for Color Codes
Underground utility maintenance must also adhere to the uniform color code for underground facilities. Employees that don’t recognize paint, flags or other markers and what their colors represent could cause critical mistakes. Knowing the code by heart will help streamline the maintenance process.
Utility workers should also employ this color code when working. Marking work areas with the appropriate flags or paint will help avoid potentially dangerous mishaps with other workers, especially if the worksite is near a construction zone.
4. Review Necessary Safety Permits
Maintenance personnel may also need safety permits before starting work, depending on the job. Working underground typically means moving in confined spaces, and OSHA requires an entry permit for areas with certain hazards. Workers should review their site to see if it falls under that umbrella and pursue applicable permits to avoid fines.
Getting a confined space entry permit requires developing a specific plan for entering and working there. It must include entry and exit times, pre-entry checks, equipment lists, emergency plans and other safety information. Even if workers don’t need such a permit, creating a strategy can ensure safer working conditions.
5. Equip Employees Properly
All employees must have appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), given underground utility maintenance’s high hazards. That includes hard hats, non-conducting gloves, work shoes and lights. Some jobs may also require insulating protective equipment (IPE) to address shock hazards with electrical infrastructure.
Confined spaces pose risks that general utility work may not have, such as hazardous gas concentrations. Consequently, some jobs may require gas monitors, respirators and ventilation blowers. Perimeter protection to prevent passers-by and workers from falling into access holes is similarly important.
6. Check the Area and Tools Before Entering
Utility workers should inspect the worksite for hazards before going underground. One of the most critical pre-entry inspections is an atmosphere check. Teams should lower a gas monitor into the space and test the underground air for hazardous gases to ensure it’s safe to enter.
Next, employees should check their PPE and work tools to ensure they’re in good condition. Workers should report issues and switch the equipment. If no alternatives are available, teams should repair the equipment or purchase replacements before working.
7. Test Systems Before and After Maintenance
Once underground, it’s important to test the utility systems in question before working on them. That includes ensuring they work properly to find the root issue and looking for signs of wear and tear like rust, excess dirt or other contaminants. Checking and testing everything will help resolve the underlying problem and minimize maintenance issues in the future.
Similarly, employees should test the underground utility systems after performing maintenance. Post-repair checks ensure the work was effective and can highlight any other issues that deserve attention. Power outages cost the U.S. $8,851 per minute, so ensuring these systems are working properly before leaving the area is essential.
8. Document Everything
One easily overlooked step in underground utility maintenance is to record issues and actions taken. Many areas require utility workers to keep and submit work logs on critical infrastructure. Even if no such laws are applicable, this documentation can aid future repair efforts.
Keep an organized, detailed record of the utility lines’ condition, problems, what workers did to fix it, who performed the work and when they finished. This information will make it easier to pinpoint potential future issues and can hold employees accountable for their work.
9. Capitalize on IoT Technology
Utility workers maintaining these systems should consider the Internet of Things (IoT). These connected devices can transmit real-time information about the infrastructure’s condition remotely. That way, companies can learn of emerging issues as they happen and resolve them faster.
IoT-based predictive maintenance, which uses these technologies to prevent breakdowns, can improve uptime by 20% and reduce repair costs by 25%. With infrastructure as critical as utility lines, those benefits are difficult to ignore.
10. Review Each Maintenance Job
Teams that have completed their underground utility maintenance should review the job. They should go over any unexpected issues, delays or successes and ask why they arose. This insight will help inform more effective repairs in the future.
Underground Utility Maintenance Requires Planning and Care
Underground utility maintenance carries unique challenges, making proper planning and careful work essential. However, teams that know what to expect and how to approach these jobs can provide a valuable source of income for maintenance workers. Making the most of these opportunities starts with understanding these best practices
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