Underground Damage Prevention Overview
The Safety Division administers the Underground Utility Damage Prevention Program to ensure public safety and minimize damage to underground facilities. Third party excavation continues to be the number one cause of damages to underground facilities in New Hampshire and nationally. Over the last 14 years (2002 to 2016) New Hampshire experienced a 39% increase in calls into the DigSafe center, reflecting strong construction activity, greater public awareness of excavation dangers including awareness of 811 notification system, and an increase in the amount of utility underground infrastructure. During the same time period, New Hampshire has experienced a 41% decrease in the number of reported damages and other probable violations. This is indicative of continued enforcement, ongoing Safety Division training, increased advertising and other public outreach efforts by all utilities and stakeholders. Annually each spring, the Safety Division co-sponsors with Managing Underground Safety Training (MUST) at least three Dig Safe® damage prevention seminars state-wide with over 500 participants in attendance.
Underground Damage Prevention Laws are listed in RSA 374:48-56 and more specific Public Utilities Commission rules are found in Administrative Rules Puc 800. In February 2017, the latest revision to the PUC 800 Rules took effect and can be found in Docket No. DRM-16-508.
The Safety Division inspects construction sites for damage prevention compliance, investigates reported damage, and issues citations when probable violations are identified. In 2016 the Division processed 194 reports of damage to underground facilities. In processing these reports, 6 conferences involving contractor and utility disputes were conducted. This represents a 86% decrease in the number of informal conferences conducted since 2013. Additionally, other matters were resolved without the need of conferences.
The Safety Division sponsors a number of Dig Safe damage prevention seminars and education opportunities throughout the state. Three types of training are provided:
- Annual Seminars geared toward general contractors, presented in conjunction with utilities;
- Trainings conducted at company headquarters upon request; and
- Training conducted at Commission offices to address with civil penalties and specific contractor violations.
The Safety Division was recognized by PHMSA in its most recent 2014 assessment as one of twenty states to achieve a perfect score for its Underground Utility Damage Prevention Program for nine basic elements, including enhanced communication between operators and excavators, partnership in public and employee education and training, and fair and consistent enforcement of the law.
In 2016, The U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA’s) Office of Pipeline Safety began auditing the Safety Division’s program regarding Underground Damage Prevention.
Criteria to be used to Evaluate State Damage Prevention Programs:
- Does the state have enforcement authority including civil penalties?
- Is there a designated enforcement body?
- Is the state using its authority and making enforcement records available to the public?
- Does the state have a reliable means of learning about damages?
- Does the state have damage investigation practices that are adequate to determine the at-fault party when damage occurs?
- At a minimum, does state law require:
a. Excavators must call 811 before digging
b. Excavators must "respect the marks"
c. If damage to a pipeline occurs ...
i. Excavator must report damage to operator at earliest practical moment
ii. If release occurs, excavator must call 911
- Are exemptions from the DP law limited? Written justification of exemptions is required.
Upon completion of PHMSA’s audit, The Safety Division received a perfect score.
Enforcement of the Underground Utility Damage Prevention Program remains a high priority for the Safety Division. Civil penalties totaling more than $80,000 were received over the latest two year period, all of which were applied to the State’s General Fund. Educational training for contractors is also conducted by staff in lieu of civil penalties, totaling an equivalent value of $20,000. Since 2004, over $700,000 has been collected in civil penalties.
For more information see Education and Training.
Before beginning your excavation, contact the Road Agent or Public Works Dept. in the community where you intend to dig. For a current list of municipal officials click here: http://www.nh.gov/dot/org/projectdevelopment/planning/documents/NHOfficialsDirectory.pdf