Page 21 - WV811 2023 issue 1
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By Joe Igel
This time of year would often make me cringe. It was not a Scrooge moment, no deep- rooted childhood experience. It was putting together the toys that were gifts to our sons and seeing somewhere on the box “Some Assembly Required”. Couple those dreadful words with the toy being made overseas and
I knew the instructions would not be clear. So, I would start assembling without reviewing the instructions, which was almost always a significant mistake. Had I planned, test-fitted and most of all, started before Christmas Eve, so much of this could have been averted.
Unfortunately, in so many situations, this “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” attitude can be deadly. My concern is rooted in an incident that
I recounted in an article three years ago about an incident where a small excavation crew cut a main gasline, causing an explosion. The story in the newspaper noted that they proceeded after their spotter had left for the
day. The workers died instantly. The explosion was twenty-five miles from our offices, but I could still hear it and feel it. The power and the fury in that single event made an impression upon me that still lingers today.
As I have mentioned in several previous articles, I am privileged to sit on Ohio’s Underground Technical Committee,
the body that enforces One-Call laws for the State. In my years of service, I have seen varying trends that trouble me, but the one that I find particularly troubling is when the violator fails to realize the potential for damage from their work and disregards free and
simple safety precautions that would protect all involved. This failure has been particularly true with excavations around pipelines.
Too many times a year, we see complaints coming from gas pipeline companies that have discovered either current or recent excavation that
could have caused severe damage to the pipeline and to those working around it. From fences to culvert pipes, from field drains to farming work, from foundations to small contractor work, we have seen it all and all pose
a significant and dangerous threat to those working there.
If these digging events are happening because excavators or owners performing excavation are uninformed, how do we resolve it? First there needs to be a broader outreach. Some violations are reported as a result of drone/aerial survey, inspectors driving along the pipeline, in short, first-
hand inspection. But these discoveries are made after or at best, during the excavation. And yes, these pipelines have marker posts that indicate the hazard, but for some reason, the warnings go unheeded.
The reasons for this lack of knowledge are understandable but unacceptable. In some cases, the land has always been in the family and there is no realization of a pipeline ever having been buried on the property. Sometimes, it is simply the expectation that the excavation being performed will not penetrate
the ground to the depth they believe the utility is or should be buried. And, sometimes, the owner is aware of the utility presence, but not aware that they are working in conflict with it.
Marker posts alone are not enough. They can be destroyed, removed, grown over and obscured and sometimes people grow numb to their presence. There are many useful tools. A friend of mine provides safety talks in schools, educating junior high and high school students and encouraging them, to
pass the information on to the rest of their household. Farm Bureaus can also provide a mechanism for this education. Perhaps insurance underwriters could have a more active role. And if a permit is required, the permitting authority could have a role. The best solution, but it takes a bit more time, is to encourage a site assessment. A good site assessment involves more planning, but the advantages are immense.
Think about me assembling a toy garage, not following the instructions, starting at the last minute, with other toys demanding assembly and batteries! And only one short evening to complete the tasks. All the while hoping that when complete it faintly resembles
the picture on the front of the box. Planning, preparation, anticipation,
all would have benefited the process. And a site assessment plan would be enormously helpful to these unaware excavators.
Despite federal regulations, state laws and owners desire to provide safety, the current methods of disseminating information need enhanced. It is time for a more aggressive approach.
Mr. Igel recently retired as vice president of the George J. Igel & Co., Inc. after working there for more than 35 years.
2023, Issue 1 West Virginia 811 • 19

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