Traditionally, outdoor projects start in the spring with a good chance that it will require digging.  Whether homeowner, excavator, or facility owner, there is shared responsibility in safety that comes with the digging process. Using the PA 811 system communicates the need of locating utility lines before the digging phase begins to help prevent injuries, property damage, and inconvenient utility outages under Pennsylvania law.

During the month of April, Pennsylvania 811 Safe Digging Month serves as a reminder to all excavators and homeowners to call 811 at least three business days before you dig.  The call will submit a request so that the approximate location of an underground utility can be identified and marked by facility owners.

To prevent injury and utility disturbance (don’t upset the neighbors), let’s take a closer look at what is involved for the DIY homeowner, contracted excavator, and facility owners.


If you are a property owner planning on installing a fence, deck, patio, mailbox post, or another type of excavation project, you are going to want to know what is below the ground. Here are 5 steps to practice safe digging:

  1. Prepare

You know exactly where you will be digging for your project. Take the time to put together your dig information before contacting 811.

    • Your contact information, including contact name, telephone number, and email address.
    • County, municipality, and ward number for Allentown, Erie, Pittsburgh, or Philadelphia.
    • Street number and street name.
    • Nearest intersection to your property and a second intersection or nearest road.
    • Location information.
    • Type of work being done, extent and method of excavation.
    • Proposed excavation date and time.
  1. Contact 8-1-1

Once you have gathered the information you need, it is time to call 8-1-1.  Plan to call three to ten business days before the dig. Keep in mind that PA One Call defines a business day as any day except a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday and begins at 12:00 am and ends at 11:59 pm.

Dial 8-1-1 or 1-800-242-1776 or submit a request online here. It is important to note that Pennsylvania 811 does not perform the duty of locating or marking of the underground utility lines. They serve as a communication network that relays your dig information to the utility companies within your municipality.

Remember not to begin work before your lawful start dates.

  1. Wait

Beginning work before the lawful start date can result in failure of  excavator’s rights and protection provided under the amended PA Act 287.  Refer to a calendar to notice legal holidays that may add one or more business days between the notification date and the date excavation will begin.

  1. Track the Progress

Facility owners, the utility company or private utility owner, are required to respond to all locate requests. To determine if there are underground facility lines near your dig site, facility owners will review your locate request. In a day or two, each utility company with underground lines will send a professional locator to your project site to mark the approximate location of buried utilities with colored paint, flags, or chalk. Facility owner locators use standard color codes to indicate the type of underground lines.

Check your inbox! On the morning of your excavation, you will receive an email that details what each utility company did to mark the location of their underground lines.

    • “Marked” means you should see colored paint, flags, or chalk near the excavation site.
    • “Clear” means the utility company does not have underground lines near your excavation site.

Be aware that the utility companies may not mark your own lines, such as service lines, lighting, pool connections, barbecue areas, or invisible fences. You may find a list of Private Underground Locating Service companies on PA 811 website who will mark customer owned lines.

  1. Dig Carefully

All project work should avoid damage to or minimize interference with underground facilities in the proposed excavation area. Be watchful for possible removal and tampering of marks. This can occur unintentionally as a result of things such as lawn mowing, normal street maintenance, activities of children playing in the neighborhood, or the weather.

You are responsible for the marks once the locator has left your proposed project site. If you suspect the markings have been compromised or eliminated you should contact 811 to request the facilities to be marked again.


Many people believe that by notifying the One Call System of intended excavation they have completed all of their responsibilities of the locating process. This is not the case. Notifying is only the first step, and there are several other important considerations.  Let’s review them.

Prior to the Start of Excavation

When planning excavation activities, the excavator should consider all available site information relating to the existence of underground facilities. The position of facility marks, any subsurface utility engineering information contained on the project plans, and the existence of visible landmarks such as meters, valve boxes, manhole covers, and similar evidence should be included in the excavator’s site assessment. If working on private property, check with the property owner to help identify any privately owned underground lines.

The excavator should plan the excavation or demolition to avoid any damage to or minimize contact with underground facilities in the construction area. The excavator is encouraged to visit the work site prior to placing a notification to outline the area where the work will take place.

Why should you plan for excavation or demolition work?

    • To avoid damage
    • To minimize interference with a facility owner’s facilities in a construction area
    • To gather information to include the identification of existing facilities by on-site inspection of the work site

When planning you should consider all available site information relating to the existence of underground facilities. For example: electric transformers, fire hydrants, telephone poles with conduit, traffic loops, pipeline right-of-way markers, meters, valve boxes, manhole covers, structures, bridge overpasses, catch basins, drains, and specialty surfaces.

Single Locate Request

You can submit your locate request online or contact 811 by calling three to ten business days before you dig.  Remember that a business day means any day except a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday. A business day begins at 12:00 am and ends at 11:59 pm.

Always work with the locator to reduce confusion at the work site. Scheduling and cooperation can keep your job moving efficiently. Discuss your schedule and resources with the locators and set up a working relationship that can save everyone significant delays and confusion. It is always a good practice to document the work you do and record what safety instructions are given by the locator or field representative at the site.

Complex Project Request

You must submit your locate request through the Coordinate PA (CPA) application. You can create a complex project from within the CPA project, and indicate if a preconstruction meeting is requested. All complex project tickets require a ten business day notice.

CPA will enable you to share project information, save money and time, and improve your level of service with other parties.

Facility Owner Responsibilities

  • Mark, stake, locate or otherwise provide the position of the facility owner’s underground lines at the work site within eighteen inches horizontally from the outside wall or edge of a line or facility.
  • Use the uniform color code and marking symbols like paint, flags, or stakes to identify their underground facilities at your work site location.
  • Respond to all notifications as required and collect the responses from the facility owners through the KARL system and relay it to you by email or by fax.

When one underground facility owner indicates there are no facilities in conflict with a specific excavation, this does not mean that Pennsylvania 811 has cleared the site, nor does it mean other facilities are not at your work site. You are encouraged to verify the current status of your one call request prior to commencing excavation or demolition work by going online or calling 1-800-222-6470.

The Direct Contact Rule

You may need to renotify, or re-transmit an existing ticket, to advise one or more facility owners of locate-related issues. If upon the initial arrival to your work site you discover an unmarked or incorrectly marked facility, you should contact 8-1-1 and request to renotify the facility owners. This is will not be considered a new ticket but you will notice a change in the ticket version number.

If a facility owner does not make direct contact within 2 hours, you can begin to work after three hours. You must exercise due care and use prudent techniques in your work and are required to file an Alleged Violation Report to the Commission.

Protecting the Marks

You are responsible for the marks once the locator has left the site. Consider documenting the position of marks as soon as possible after they are placed. Be watchful of unintentional removal or tampering of marks.

If you suspect that marks may have been compromised or removed you should contact 8-1-1 to request that the facilities be marked again.

Protecting the Lines

If and when excavation operations approach the estimated location of underground facilities, you must determine the precise location of the marked facility by safe and acceptable means.

There is what is known as a tolerance zone or the horizontal space within eighteen inches of the outside wall or edge of a line or facility. Within the tolerance zone you must employ prudent techniques, which may include hand-dug test holes or vacuum excavation.

Ticket Updates

It is not required to update your ticket every 10 business days on an active work site when the markings have been preserved and your equipment has not been moved off the work site for more than two business days.

You can request a facility owner to mark their facilities again if the work did not begin within the original lawful start date with a requirement of a three business day notice.

When Damage Occurs

If damage occurs during the course of excavation, it is the excavator’s responsibility to promptly notify the facility owner so the line may be inspected and repaired, if necessary, before being backfilled. Damage can also occur from improper backfilling around exposed utilities. You should support those exposed facilities until such time as the facility owner inspects them.

When an Emergency Occurs

If the damage results in the escape of any flammable, toxic or corrosive gas, or liquid which endangers life, health, or property you must immediately notify 9-1-1 and the facility owner. Reasonable measures must be taken, based on your knowledge, training, resources, experience, and understanding of the situation to protect yourself and those in immediate danger, like the public, property, and the environment, until the facility owner or emergency responders have arrived and completed their assessment of the situation. Remain on site to convey any pertinent information to the responders that may help them safely mitigate the situation.

The requirement to notify 9-1-1 is mandated by the Act and by the Federal Pipeline Safety Act.

The PA One Call system provides the easiest way to properly communicate between all parties involved that is sure to prevent any unwanted injury and service disruption. The odds of an excavator disturbing something below besides dirt are growing each day with the popularity of  underground networks of telephone cables, power lines, and cable TV lines joining the gas, water, sewer, and petroleum pipes. Practice safe digging by not being fooled by the sight of overhead lines. That doesn’t always rule out the existence of buried power, television, or telephone facilities and buried utilities that can run along your property line and lots that serve neighboring homes.

Happy digging and stay safe!