Critical Steps to Help Crews Stay Safe on HDD Jobs

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Critical Steps to Help Crews Stay Safe on HDD Jobs

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As underground networks continue to grow, the risk of striking an underground utility line is ever more present. In 2016, below-surface utilities were damaged 317,869 times, according to the Common Ground Alliance DIRT report.

Utility strikes are avoidable. It’s imperative that horizontal directional drilling contractors and operators follow these best practices to help protect underground utilities and keep their people safe on the job.

Plan and prepare

A little time spent on planning and preparation can prevent problems that could take days, even weeks to fix. A successful job requires a knowledgeable, responsible and protected crew. A drill operator relies on the tracker on the ground using guidance equipment to provide feedback to successfully drill around obstructions — whereas the tracker relies on the operator to use the recommendations and keep him out of harm’s way. 

The growing demand and advancements in the market also requires an adequate supply of knowledgeable HDD workers. Crews can prepare themselves through Ditch Witch Certified HDD Training.

Locate existing utilities

Forty percent of damages that occurred across America in 2016 resulted from inadequate efforts to locate underground utilities or failure to notify the proper utility owners, according to the DIRT report. Fortunately, the underground construction industry has introduced valuable tools and services that, if used properly, can significantly reduce the risk of utility damage during HDD jobs.

  1. Call 811. One-call (811) must be contacted to coordinate utility locations with companies that participate in the one-call program, in addition to contacting all utilities owners that do not participate in the program.
  2. Verify locates. Some utility companies only locate to the utility meter, which may leave some privately owned lines unmarked. If excavating around these lines, additional provisions must be made to locate them. Use a locator to identify these lines and to verify the utilities locates.  
  3. 3.Use a vacuum excavator to expose lines. While locating equipment is crucial for finding approximate locations of underground utilities, vacuum excavators can effectively expose utilities through potholing or daylighting. Providing a clear view of the utilities will allow the operators to visually verify the exact location and to watch bore crossings to ensure no damage occurs.

Track the drill

While drilling, the drill head must be tracked at least every full length of pipe, and more often depending on underground congestion in the area. Each tracking location should be marked and progress should be checked to ensure the bore is staying on the intended path.

For more information about keeping safe on the job, visit


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