Today, CGA released the 2022 Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) Report, which provides a comprehensive accounting and analysis of damages to buried utilities in the U.S. and Canada. Each year, facility operators, utility locating companies, 811 centers, excavators, contractors, regulators and other damage prevention stakeholders voluntarily submit their annual damage data to CGA’s DIRT tool to help create an accurate picture of the current damage landscape.
The annual DIRT Report and Interactive Dashboard highlight trends, gauge the efficacy of damage prevention practices and outreach, inform future Best Practices and provide recommendations to achieve our shared 50-in-5 industry goal of reducing damages by 50% over the next five years.
Persistent Damage Root Causes & Excavator Reporting
The 2022 DIRT Report outlines several persistent challenges that contribute to more than 76% of all damages, including no notification to the 811 center, failure to pothole and/or maintain sufficient clearance, facilities not marked or marked inaccurately due to locator error and other improper excavation practices.
While specific root causes have remained the same over the years, the slight change in this year’s order can be attributed to expanded excavator reporting. For the first time in the history of CGA’s DIRT Report, excavation/construction was the top reporting source, offering us a more comprehensive understanding of the challenges this stakeholder group is facing in the field.
Increased Infrastructure Funding and its Implications
The 2022 DIRT Report looks at three-year trending using a comparable dataset, and determined that damages to underground utilities rose between 2021 and 2022. A regression analysis of consistent 2020-2022 data, which considered additional variables including weather, population and infrastructure density further confirms that damages were at best flat, and likely increasing.
Excavation activity has continued to increase as states work to improve infrastructure, along with an influx of funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. With large scale infrastructure projects on the rise, it’s more important than ever that professionals across all damage prevention stakeholder groups adhere to safe digging procedures.
Locator Error and Lack of Excavator Confidence
The Report examined two top locator root causes—failure to mark and inaccurate marks—as well as the emerging crisis of late locates. An analysis from seven states determined that as many as 56% of 811 tickets receive late or no positive response, meaning work cannot legally start.
Excavator awareness of 811 is high, yet the top damage root cause for 2022 was “no notification to the 811 center,” and 77% of these no-notification damages were caused by professionals. Late and inaccurate locates may explain the gap between awareness and compliance among excavators who have lost confidence in the 811 system. Restoring confidence by providing timely, accurate locates is paramount and could greatly contribute to driving down damages.
Innovative Solutions to Persistent Challenges
To emphasize that the 50-in-5 challenge is achievable, the DIRT Report includes a case study from 811 Chicago, which reduced underground utility damages in the city by 50% over five years through increased stakeholder collaboration and mapping efforts. 811 Chicago positioned mapping at the forefront of its proactive damage prevention strategy, leveraging advanced technology and innovative approaches to enhance the accuracy and effectiveness of utility mapping and excavation planning. Additionally, 811 Chicago’s mapping program has actively fostered open lines of communication between facility owners/operators and excavators, promoting cooperation and mutual accountability throughout the damage prevention process.
The 2022 DIRT Report includes an entire section dedicated to recommendations for improving the damage prevention industry as a whole and addressing individual root causes that are responsible for the majority of damages. CGA encourages all damage prevention stakeholders to consider how they can incorporate the Report’s recommendations into their organization’s practices to help move the industry toward a future of dramatic damage reduction.
Some key recommendations include:
- No-Notification Root Cause: Focus excavator outreach on behavioral change—namely consistent and effective use of 811—and help restore excavator confidence in the system through improved locating processes.
- Excavation Root Causes: Prioritize tolerance zone safety, address contracts to provide adequate compensation for potholing and provide excavators with access to map visualizations.
- Locator Error Root Causes: Enhance facility maps to GIS-grade, address contract structures to increase efficiency and reduce overall locator workloads through effective use of the 811 system.
CGA would like to thank the Data Reporting and Evaluation Committee for their diligent work in preparing the important analysis and thoughtful recommendations included in the 2022 Report. We would also like to thank all of the organizations that voluntarily submitted their damage and near-miss data to DIRT in order to help our industry understand the current damage prevention landscapes and the key challenges facing our industry. Without the valuable time and information provided by our members and committees, CGA would not be able to produce our annual DIRT Report and recommendations.
In addition to the key takeaways in the 2022 DIRT Report, be sure to visit the DIRT Interactive Dashboard to explore the data that is most relevant to your organization or stakeholder group. If you’re interested in contributing to the 2023 DIRT Report by submitting data, or establishing a Virtual Private Dirt account, visit the DIRT site at http://www.cga-dirt.com.