Page 13 - West Virgina 811 Magazine 2020 Issue 3
P. 13

It Be Fair
Underground Utilities?
simply refuse to act in the best interest of our communities and families. And to be fair, many are saying if a violation of the state’s dig law occurs, it should not matter which utility line is beneath the violation.
Creating such standards should be a lot easier than it has been or will be, but those who are committed to protecting our families and our infrastructure always finds a way to make it happen. It won’t be achieved by going around
or over someone. It will be achieved by working together with other professionals who recognize what is at stake.
We don’t want our families placed
in harm’s way by reckless behavior, whether it’s excessive speeding or driving under the influence. We have certain expectations that those who disregard these laws will be held accountable for their decisions.
There should be the same expectations when it comes to protecting our underground infrastructure. This is also about public safety. If the objective of fair and consistent enforcement
is damage prevention, and damage prevention benefits everyone, then by default we find ourselves on the side
of fair and consistent enforcement. Fining someone for making a mistake just makes them angry and is neither effective nor fair. Enforcement of the state’s dig law is designed to change behaviors. And behaviors are changed through education and accountability—
by educating all stakeholders to abide by the dig law and hold those who don’t, or won’t, accountable.
Creating the environment for sharing different ideas and perspectives is
a critical step in moving toward adequately enforcing the state’s dig law for all utilities. Enforcement that is seen as fair for all stakeholders and effective in reducing damages is the result of reducing the number of violations that occur every day.
To be sure, effective enforcement will always be a work in progress, in part because there are so many different perspectives to consider. Additionally, until enforcement is a reality, it’s hard to determine the enforceability of existing laws that were passed twenty years ago.
“I’m interested,” you say, “But where do I start?” I get asked that question quite a bit across the country, especially as more and more states are beginning
to consider or implement enforcement for violations to their dig law, without regard to utility type.
So, in the first place, getting started
is a matter of recognizing that all underground utilities are important and must be protected. It may be that you already believe this to be true. Then recognize that you aren’t alone. The other thing here is to recognize that there will be much opposition to the idea and some for reasons you never knew.
And in the second place, we must create the environment for the free flow of information and perspectives. That involves identifying as many stakeholders as is possible and provide a seat at the table for their ideas. Many utilize the state’s 811 center as the facilitator for these discussions. Others use their Regional Common Ground Alliance (CGA) groups to facilitate the discussions. Mutual respect for each other’s perspectives is the best way to keep the conversation flowing.
Finally, and in the third place, do not get in your own way in the first place. Too many times we shoot ourselves in the foot by getting too emotional and confrontational in meetings with such a wide range of ideas and perspectives. It is important to remain committed
to the goal of answering the question: “What is the best way for us to work together to protect our underground infrastructure?”
To achieve the goal of reducing damages, we must work to build consensus to amend the current
“dig law” to promote accountability while working around underground facilities. The aim would be to improve existing good practices, raise the level of professionalism across the entire industry and increase awareness of all stakeholders’ responsibilities.
“Impossible!” you say. I really don’t know if it’s possible in your state...I just know it’s necessary.
Dig safe!
2020, Issue 3 West Virginia 811 • 11

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