PG&E Tips of the Trade
Safe hand-digging practices
811 Know what's below. Call before you dig.

Dig safe
Damage to a natural gas pipeline can cause a gas leak that can result in a fire, explosion or injuries.

Call 811 or use the online ticket system at at least two working days prior to starting work.

Stay alert and look up
Look up and around before lifting or moving irrigation pipes or ladders. Check for power lines, poles and support wires before driving or operating equipment.

Injury or possible death can result from contact with any overhead or underground power line, large or small. Even the service wires that run from utility poles to buildings and pumps are potentially dangerous.

Keep yourself and all tools and equipment at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines. Only qualified line-clearance tree trimmers can work in the 10-foot safety zone.

High voltages require a larger safety zone. Before work begins, your crew leader must brief you about power line voltages in your work area and the clearances required to get the job done safely.

Make the call
If you suspect a gas leak or if you contact a gas pipeline or electric power line, call 911 immediately then PG&E at:

Review these tips with coworkers at your tailgate or tool box meetings before work begins to help avoid potential hazards when working near underground utilities.

Use a rounded or blunt-edged shovel for safe hand-digging around utility lines.

You've called 811, and all buried utility lines on your job site have been located and marked. Now your power-digging work can begin, right?

Not so fast. In California, before you can use power-digging equipment to cross a marked utility line or excavate within 24 inches from the outside edge of the line, you must hand dig to determine the line's exact location.

Hand dig with care
Protect utility lines from damage and protect yourself from injury with these hand-digging tips:

  • Use a rounded or blunt-edged shovel. Sharp tools like pickaxes, mattocks, pry bars or pointed spades may gouge or puncture lines.
  • Start your digging off to the side of the marked utility line. Use a gentle, prying motion to break away soil as you approach the utility laterally.
  • Never pry against a utility line to remove soil, and never stab at the soil or stomp on the shovel with both feet.

Prevent muscle strain and injury
Always wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Don't twist your torso to move the dirt; move your feet to turn your entire body. Alternate shoveling between your left and right sides. Take care to prevent muscle strain, and take breaks to prevent fatigue.

Report all damage
Even a slight gouge, scrape or dent to a utility conduit or its coating may cause a break or leak in the future. Protect all exposed utility lines and check them regularly for damage. Before you backfill, check them again. Report any damage to PG&E so our crews can inspect the line and make the necessary repairs.

Would you like to know more?
Additional digging guidelines, emergency procedures, case studies, instructional videos and training tools can all be found at no charge to you on the PG&E e-SMARTworkers website. Here you can also order free safety materials for contractors and tree workers.

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