2002 Law Changes
After much discussion and input from many agencies, the so-called “Dig-Safe” law has been changed rather significantly. The law is found under Title 23, Section 3360-A. There are several important changes as introduced in early 2002 under LD 2024 and passed as 2002 PL 577. It was passed as an emergency bill and signed by the Governor on March 28, 2002 and became effective immediately. Some of the changes include:
- a “shoulder grading activity” is now well defined and provides a method for this activity to occur without being in direct conflict with the law. Before this change, any grader blade which came closer than 18 inches in depth to the buried utility line was automatically in violation. Now, it is allowable ONLY IF the following occurs:
- the excavator calls Dig Safe and all other nonmembers….as usual,
- the excavator contacts each utility operator in the grading area and describes the proposed grading activity and includes the expected depth of grading,
- within 3 days of this contact, the utility operator determines and notifies the excavator whether the faciltity is deep enough to avoid damage,
- after this discussion, the excavator can grade the shoulders so as not to disturb the facility.
- if the facility is not deep enough to allow the grading activity, the “licensing authority” (Town or State as applies), may require the utility operator to lower or otherwise move its facility in accordance with State law or its license…. before the shoulder grading occurs.
- in excavations where a contractor or subcontractors or other agencies are involved in the excavation, “the excavator directly responsible for performing the excavation” is responsible for meeting all Dig Safe notification requirements.
- all electric or gas service lines located in the public way and connected to the utility’s main must be marked now…..not just the “main line”. This means that service lines must be marked to the right-of-way line.
- a private land owner who owns underground facilities on his/her own property for commercial or residential purposes is no longer considered an “underground facility operator”.
- all excavations in a cemetery can be done without following the notification requirements of Dig Safe as long as 1) the cemetery owner identifies the entire cemetery as a potential excavation site to Dig Safe and other nonmember utility operators, and 2) the owner marks all current underground facilities, and 3) the owner maintains records of the location of all facilities, and 4) tries to avoid damage to the facilities.
- the MDOT used to be legally exempt from notifying Dig Safe for sign installation and maintenance….…but not any more. However, emergency sign installations can still occur under the emergency provisions in the law.
- designers, architects, and others designing an excavation are no longer required to initially contact utility owners and make that information a part of the plan. It’s still a good idea..…but it’s not required.
- the PUC can fine anyone for failing to comply with excavation rules pertaining to commercial timber operations, cemeteries, and road shoulder grading activities.
2001 Law Changes
And….it’s important to remember the changes to the Dig Safe law which became effective on August 11, 2001.
- Enforcement of Dig Safe laws is now the responsibility of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). In fact, the law allowed the PUC to develop a set of "rules" for implementing the law. After a public comment period in the fall of 2000, Rule Chapter 895 became effective on November 11, 2000.
- The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) can now impose fines up to $500, unless the violator has been fined in the last 12 months and the fine can be up to $5,000. These fines are in addition to other costs associated with liabilities caused by not following the Dig Safe law.
- PUC fines can be for any of the following events:
- not calling the Dig Safe number (1-888-DIGSAFE), or other nonmember utilities, prior to excavating,
- excavating in a reckless or negligent manner,
- using mechanical means within 18 in. of a marked underground facility,
- failure by the utility owner to mark the facilities within the time limits, or
- marking the facility in a reckless or negligent manner
- Also, the PUC, in addition to the owner of the utility, can issue a temporary restraining order to halt an excavator who is acting negligently or unsafely or is likely to cause damage to the utility.
- An excavator cannot use mechanical means (any device or tool powered by an engine) when excavating within 18 inches of any marked underground utility. (However, mechanical means can be used for initial penetration through the pavement or rock.) Once the utility line has been exposed, further excavation must be performed employing “reasonable precautions” to avoid damage to the utility.
- Calling Dig Safe for emergencies used to be exempt....but not anymore. Now, the law requires that an excavator may begin to excavate “after having taken all reasonable steps to notify” Dig Safe beforehand and to premark the site. The owner of the utility “must locate its line as soon as practicable after receiving notification of an emergency excavation whether or not the excavation has begun.”
- Also, the Dig-Safe system must maintain adequate operations outside normal business hours to respond to emergency situations.
- Other details can be found in the PUC Rule.
These changes should be taken seriously by anyone moving or displacing earth, rock, or other material BELOW the ground surface. This includes ditching, trenching, grading, sign installation, culvert repair, road reconstruction, and other forms of disturbing the earth such as putting a below ground pool in your backyard or putting up a fence with driven posts.
In summary, make the free phone call to Dig Safe, and be sure to call all non-member local utility operators.
Street Name Sign Posts:
- Street name signs and posts for E-911: Because the installation of sign posts is considered an "operation in which earth, rock, or other material BELOW the ground is moved or otherwise displaced", municipalities should call DIG-SAFE before installing these posts. You can either call them with the locations (i.e. northwest corner of Elm and Maple Street) OR FAX the list to them at 781-721-0047. They will then assign authorization numbers to each site and FAX the back to you. (Don't forget to premark the sites!)
- Some people have questioned their liability of installing sign posts by hand or by power equipment. State law specifies that the use of power tools or equipment requires DIG-SAFE notification. Digging, pounding, or trenching with hand tools is NOT considered excavation. However, what happens when road crew member Brutus drives a u-channel sign post with a sledgehammer right through a fiber-optic cable? Liable or not? State law says no, but this would probably create some interesting discussion between several attorneys. The bottom line is: make the free phone call, especially if you suspect any possibility of underground facilities.
In summary, make the free phone call or contact their new web site at http://www.digsafe.com (Offsite)
This page last updated on