Existing services such as electrical cables, gas mains, water lines and telecommunication cables are often damaged when excavations are being carried out on construction projects. In fact clients often joke that if they don’t know where the underground services are they should call a contractor in, and they’ll quickly dig them up. Of course this isn’t so funny for the contractor, especially if they damage a fibre optic cable which costs thousands of dollars to repair.
The cost of damaging an existing service
You definitely don’t want to damage existing services because:
1. the repair costs can be large
2. when a high voltage electrical cable is damaged there’s a risk someone will be electrocuted
3. work is often held up until the repair is completed, which may take several days
4. often a cable is unknowingly damaged, but remains operational, and only later, after the contractor has installed concrete floors and finishes the cable fails, resulting in the completed work having to be broken up to repair the fault
5. if an electrical cable feeding the site is damaged it could mean the site is without power for several hours or days, impacting the schedule and productivity
6. the client and neighbouring businesses will be unhappy if the contractor disrupts their services (even claiming for losses incurred)
How to avoid damaging an existing service
It’s important that you:
1. obtain all the necessary permits before excavating, drilling, cutting into, or demolishing structures
2. ensure all the known services are located
3. clearly mark these services (I cannot tell you how many times we’ve damaged known services because they weren’t marked)
4. protect the services where possible
5. ensure all newly installed services are clearly marked on the ground and on drawings
6. ensure workers are aware of the services and take precautions not to damage them
7. clearly highlight the risk of damaging the services in risk assessments and at prestart meetings
8. use personnel that are adequately trained and competent, so they don’t accidently operate a machine in a way that damages a service
Damage to services applies to overhead ones as well, and you must take steps to ensure that construction machines don’t come close to overhead power lines or structures, as this could result in a fatal accident.
Damaging an existing service can be costly, disruptive and often dangerous. The project team needs to be made aware of all existing services and ensure that suitable precautions are taken so they aren’t damaged.
For other articles on this website which might interest you visit the index of construction articles.
This article is adapted from the author's books. To read more about these books and find out where you can purchase them visit the pages on this website by clicking the links below:
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The opinions expressed in the attached articles are those of the writer. It should be noted that projects are varied and different laws and restrictions apply which depend on the location of the contractor and the project. It's important that the reader uses the supplied information taking cognisance of their particular circumstances. The writer assumes no responsibility or liability for any loss of any kind arising from the reader using the information or advice contained herein.
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