October 9, 2020
Underground Asset Protection During Construction

Construction projects can be hindered by the necessity to first locate buried infrastructure assets as damage to these critical services can disrupt fundamental services to the community and possibly cause injury and / or death to those working around these critical assets. Geoff Zeiss in his article ‘Reducing underground utility damage during construction’ discusses the $10 trillion global industry facing a crisis particularly in the world’s advanced economies such as the UK, Japan, Germany, and the United States. Utility damage in the United States is between 400,000 and 800,000 incidents per year in contrast to Japan where the number of incidents recorded in 2016 was a mere 134.

Geoff Zeiss explains, beginning in 1985 Japan began implementing a comprehensive program to reduce damage involving all stakeholders, excavators, network owners and government agencies as part of ROADIC and this supports the statistic of 134 incidents. In 2003 in North America, the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) began collecting voluntarily submitted incident reports and the statistics reveal that utility damage increases when prorated to construction. In the Netherlands where reporting of incidents is mandatory, the statistics reveal that while construction has improved, there has been no reduction in underground utility damage.

According to the Federal Highway Authority (FHWA), many civil construction projects are delayed due to underground utilities. A similar comparison can be drawn here too in Australia regarding costly delays and budget blowouts to infrastructure projects in Melbourne and Sydney with the importance to first identify the presence of buried infrastructure assets before commencing any project:

1Andrew Chambers, a fund’s manager at investment firm Martin Currie, says “

Cost overruns on projects in Sydney and Melbourne are due to numerous factors, ranging from shortages of skilled labour and building materials to unknowns such as ground contamination and underground utilities. There are a lot more unknowns when you are tunnelling.”

Advancing technology and new developments are changing how underground utilities are located and digitally mapped which could potentially minimise these delays. The industry standard for locating underground assets is Electromagnetic (EM) detection however this method involves a manual process in marking utilities on the ground and does not record permanently the location of mapped utilities. However, developments in ground penetrating radar (GPR) has made it possible to capture scans of buried infrastructure assets.

The essence of reducing damage to buried assets is in improving the quality of the data that maps existing buried infrastructure assets. Currently many of the records held by asset owners are either old or of poor quality. Reducing utility damage during construction needs an overhaul whether it be changes in legislation, regulation and business processes and a successful program requires a comprehensive approach involving many stakeholders.

To read Geoff’s full article click here.

1Andrew Chamber’s Quote