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Report: 44% of excavation works put underground assets at risk

Nearly half of all excavation work in the UK takes place without a thorough underground asset search, putting critical utility infrastructure at constant risk of being accidentally damaged, according to a new report.

The report, 'Digging Up Britain' by LinesearchbeforeUdig (LSBUD), has revealed that despite there being a 27 per cent increase in location-specific searches between 2016 and 2017, only 2.25 million of the estimated 4 million work projects – or 56 per cent – that took place last year included a thorough search for assets such as pipes and cables which might be present underground.

In its report, LSBUD, which provides a free-to-use online asset search facility, also suggests that many utility companies are missing a trick when it comes to protecting their underground assets.

While the 72 members of LSBUD combine to make their assets available as easily as possible, many others do not, leaving hundreds of thousands of kilometres of the UK’s pipes and cables exposed to a greater risk of strikes.

With only a small number of water companies making their asset information available through a collaborative portal, water-related infrastructure is the most vulnerable of all the utility sectors. 

Companies in four regions of the UK – Northumberland, Essex & Suffolk, Hafren Dyfrdwy and part of Severn Trent – provide details of their network of pipes through LSBUD, meaning that the vast majority of the sector is at huge risk of strikes.

Richard Broome, managing director of LSBUD, said: “Not only can digging without a clear understanding of what is beneath the ground put site workers at risk of injury, a strike can also result in significant costs for the asset owner both in terms of repair and downtime as well as damage to its brand reputation and customer perception. The water sector requests the second largest volume of reports by sector, so the service is a key part of their safe-digging preparations, but the sector doesn’t yet share its asset data as well as it might.

“As a result, it’s vital that comprehensive utility asset searches become recognised as standard practice when firms are planning and preparing for any works involving digging. Alongside this, all asset owners must protect their infrastructure by doing everything they can to make access to their data easy for those third parties that need it to work safely.  It is only by doing both these things that we can manage and reduce the vulnerability of our national utility infrastructure.”

LSBUD’s report reveals that the risk of strikes comes from many fronts. The highest volume of searches by sector came from firms working on behalf of telecoms companies, with just under 800,000 searches made during 2017.

Water companies and their contractors generated the second highest volume of search enquiries during 2017. The six most prolific regional water suppliers requested details of underground assets on 523,043 occasions – 23 per cent of all searches made last year.

Government drives to increase housing provision and reduce flooding meant that searches ordered for housing projects rose by 34 per cent in 2017, while there was also a 17 per cent leap in work relating to watercourses.

Broome added: “The sheer volume of work taking place across the country means that the risk to our utility infrastructure is coming from all directions and asset owners cannot possibly keep track of all the work going on that might affect their infrastructure. 

“The most effective way to mitigate this is by ensuring information about asset location is made available to as wide an audience as possible. LSBUD facilitates that and we’re delighted that over 70 asset owners including the National Grid, UK Power Networks, WPD, SGN, Northumbrian Water and the majority of the major electricity, gas and fuel networks are already seeing the benefits of being registered with us. 

"Whilst we’re still some way off reaching our goal of having all asset owners making their information available through us, we believe that the insights revealed by our report will help other asset owners understand the wider benefits of protecting their network of assets through the service.”

To download a copy of the 'Digging Up Britain' report, go to www.linesearchbeforeudig.co.uk

Author: Robin Hackett, editor, WWT
Topic: Contractors
Tags: Contractor

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