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Taking care when locating buried utilities

Posted on 4/04/2017 at 4:19 PM by in Blog Underground Pipes Underground Utilities

Whether you are planning a self build project, an extension or simply excavating an area where you are unsure of what is beneath the surface it is wise to check with the utility companies first. Many people make assumptions with regards to locating buried utilities that often come back to haunt them.

Locating buried utilities can be a very long process as you will be required to contact all the different utility companies. However, this is absolutely vital as hitting a gas main or electrical cable can be extremely dangerous.

Guidelines for working with and locating buried utilities

The HSE have published guidelines on what do to if you accidentally breach a pipe or cable, and this happens more often that you think with injuries ranging from electric shocks through to severe burns to the hands, face and body.

The HSE booklet “Avoiding danger from underground services” gives guidance on how you can manage the risks of digging near underground cables and is 40 pages long covering all the potential dangers of working near underground utilities.

The HSE particularly makes reference to underground cables which are extremely dangerous as they often just look like normal pipes and it is impossible to tell just by looking at them whether they are live or not.

The government is also aware of the potential dangers of working around underground utilities and has issued laws to legislate against people who don’t take reasonable care when digging. The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 states that “no person shall be engaged in any work activity where technical knowledge or experience is necessary to prevent danger or, where appropriate, injury, unless he possesses such knowledge or experience, or is under such degree of supervision as may be appropriate having regard to the nature of the work”. It is therefore vital that all precautions are taken to ensure that you have all the necessary resources for locating buried utilities.

The Electricity Networks Association has also published a handy booklet called “watch it!” which makes for excellent reading for anyone looking to do any work near underground utilities. The biggest problem is knowing where the utilities are, and with so many new builds being developed over existing land it is not safe to assume anything when it comes to underground pipes and cables, and therefore the upmost care should be taken and the task of locating buried utilities is vital.

Most of the cables surrounding properties in the UK belong to one of the major distributions network operators, however, this is not always the case, and many people assume that after contacting the DNO’s that it is alright to dig. The highways Authority, Network Rail and the Ministry of Defence also lay underground utilities and these will need to be contacted to make absolutely sure before digging.

Careful planning and risk assessments will need to be carried out before any digging commences and are vital in order to avoid unnecessary delays and preventable accidents.

The HSE also advises that plans and other suitable information should be obtained before any excavation commences, however, symbols on electrical plans may vary from operator to operator and it is often the case that high voltage an low voltage cables are detailed on different plans. It is therefore extremely important that expert help is sought in obtaining and reviewing these plans.

For more information on excavation and underground services visit the HSE website at

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