Page 11 - West Virgina 811 Magazine 2021 Issue 3
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As I have written in past articles, I began my construction career in the mid-1970s. One of my earliest tasks, as I have also mentioned, was calling in all locate requests. Since then, technology has refined the process, allowed us to narrow the parameters needed for marking, provide more accurate excavation information, screen tickets more accurately, communicate more effectively online, and so on.
The process today, in my mind, barely resembles the antiquated way that we did the locate process in the 1970’s.
This begs the question, does this technological advance improve the environment we work in? And if our answer is “yes”, how do we measure that? Can we simply look at the number of “hits” or should we try to see near misses as well? Should we look at human and financial costs of tragic damages? Can we look at civil suits
and the total fines? Does insurance claim data clarify the matter? And with the increased number of states having enforcement provisions, does their
data provide insight? It is probably impossible to arrive at a definitive conclusion.
Importantly, are there also limitations on what technology can resolve. Are old, poorly mapped, or unmapped lines an issue for locators, for screeners? If a tracer wire has decayed or broken, can technology provide resolution? If field changes during the installation were
necessary and the as-builts were not submitted, does technology provide an answer? I believe it still comes down to the human element.
When I was in high school and college, I debated competitively. We often
used a trite statement to degrade our opponents’ statistics, suggesting that they used them much as a drunken person uses a lamppost, for support rather than illumination. Is that the quandary we face today?
As I reflect on this, I do believe that the environment has changed since
I started. As my interest in avoiding damages grew, my expected role in the company also grew. When I started, the relationship among the parties (the excavators, the utility owners, the contracting authority, the third-party locators, and so on) was adversarial.
I would attend meetings that were intended to bring excavators together with utilities and yet hear “gossipy” kinds of conversations from utility workers making fun of and ridiculing excavators. Every meeting I went to with fellow excavators ran the risk of turning into a gripe session on utilities and their lack of cooperation in the process.
It truly felt that we were engaged in trench warfare, both sides firing upon each other, but neither side discussing the real issues, attempting to see if
a peaceful and amicable resolution was possible. And this probably was
By Joe Igel
motivated by the incentives. Insurance companies, obviously, wanted to
keep claims down. Given that a hike in claims or claim amounts would increase insurance costs, so did the other parties. Everyone “bled” their company colors, and that was the issue. Playing the long game did not enter the discussion.
But the attitudes are, from what I witness today, more constructive, more focused, and more of a cooperative nature. Changes in the dig laws that were unthinkable years ago are being made. As violation complaints come before our enforcement board, I feel confident that they are a fraction
of where they would have been 45 years ago. While some of the nuances might escape them, the number of people who understand the process has grown, largely due to a concerted educational effort. And I genuinely believe that we are improving the environments for our employees. The key is, that we need to use statistics, current technology, virtually anything we can obtain or employ, not to necessarily “support” our decisions or policies but to “illuminate” paths to continue this improvement, to reach out to the elements that still do not see the entire picture, and to make things even better.
Mr. Igel recently retired as vice president of the George J. Igel & Co., Inc. after working there for more than 35 years.
2021, Issue 3 West Virginia 811 • 9

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