Don't Dig Yourself Into a Disaster

Posted by Jennifer L. Gregg on Mar 18, 2015

If you do any excavation work, this article is for you.

The national "Call Before You Dig" number 811 was created to protect contractors from unintentionally hitting underground facilities while working on digging projects. People digging often make assumptions about whether they should get their utility lines marked and sometimes choose not to mark lines due to concerns about project delays or costs.

Any person planning excavation work is required by California Government Code 4216 to contact their regional notification center at least two working days, but not more than 14 calendar days, before starting excavation if the excavation will be conducted in an area that is known or reasonably should be known to contain subsurface facilities (such as gas, electrical, water, etc.).

Every digging job requires a call – even small projects such as planting trees or shrubs. If you hit an underground utility line while digging, you can harm yourself or those around you, disrupt service to an entire neighborhood and potentially be responsible for fines and repair costs. In Northern California, the regional notification center is known as the Underground Service Alert of Northern California (aka USA North).

If you start excavation work without calling USA North and cause damage to underground utilities, it is a violation of Business & Professions Code Section 7110, which constitutes a cause for disciplinary action, and the penalties can be severe. For example, if PG&E makes a complaint to the Contractors State License Board, the penalties could range from a warning letter to license revocation in the most serious cases. PG&E complaints against licensed contractors for unauthorized digs are on the rise and there is no sign complaints are letting up. Those who fail to register with USA North are subject to a fine of up to $50,000 and could be held responsible for repair costs. The most severe consequence of unauthorized digs can be physical injury or property damage. Leaking natural gas from a punctured line could cause an explosion while those who strike an electrical line are at risk of electrocution. 

USA North outlines five steps to a safe excavation:

Step 1: Survey your proposed excavation site and mark the areas with white spray chalk or stakes.

Step 2: Call USA North before you dig.

Step 3: Wait until USA North responds to your inquiry. The 2-14 day time period before beginning excavation allows USA North members to examine their underground facility records and respond to you.

Step 4:  Respect the marks for the duration of the job. If the markings aren’t reasonably visible, you must call USA North again and request a re-marking.

Step 5: Dig with care.

Don’t risk the harsh penalties associated with unauthorized digs. Call USA North at 8-1-1 or 1-800-227-2600. For more information regarding the 8-1-1 procedure and guidelines, please visit

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