April is National Safe Digging Month. It began in 2008 as a way to encourage all CGA (Common Ground Alliance) stakeholders to promote the safe digging message through one voice during one strategic month when digging activity begins in earnest nationwide following winter.

Safe digging means paying attention to the job, following the rules, and most importantly, calling 811 prior to any excavation to get those underground utilities marked and located.

Not following any of these simple protocols can result in disaster.

This April is the 105th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, a case study in not following protocols that resulted in disaster. There were many, but let’s look at what may be the top three.

A fire had begun in one of Titanic’s coal bunkers approximately 10 days prior to the ship’s departure, and continued to burn for several days into its voyage, but it was finally extinguished on April 14th – the day the ship hit the iceberg. Fresh evidence suggests the ship’s hull may have been crippled by a massive blaze that burned unchecked for almost three weeks immediately behind the spot where it was later pierced. You can read the article here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/12/31/huge-fire-ripped-titanic-struck-iceberg-fresh-evidence-suggests/

So – we have a coal bunker fire that blazed hot enough and long enough to seriously compromise the structural integrity of the hull – at the exact spot where it took the first blows from the iceberg.

Obviously, this was a visual clue that was ignored. The ship should never have set sail with a coal fire of that magnitude burning.

Just the same, visual clues of an underground gas leak before excavation that shouldn’t be ignored are:

• A rotten egg odor.
• Discolored or dead vegetation over or near the pipeline.
• A hissing, whistling or roaring sound near a gas appliance or pipeline.
• Dirt or debris being blown into the air.
• Persistent bubbles in streams, ponds or wet areas.

Second, the officers of the Titanic knew they were entering iceberg-infested waters many hours before the collision. Radio reports had been received – and generally ignored. Titanic received six messages from other ships warning of drifting ice, which passengers on Titanic had begun to notice during the afternoon.

Although the crew was aware of ice in the vicinity, the ship’s speed was not reduced, and she continued to steam at 22 knots, only 2 knots short of her maximum speed of 24 knots, or 28 miles per hour.

Ignoring written warnings! How many times have you seen one of these signs warning you of underground utilities? Those signs are there for a reason, just as the iceberg warnings were transmitted for a reason.

Ignoring these markers or others like them is a certain way of digging your way into disaster!

Finally, the two lookouts on duty at the time of the accident, situated some 95 feet above the deck in the crow’s nest, had no binoculars. Those particular items had been left behind in port due to some sort of mix up. When one of the surviving lookouts was asked by a commission of inquiry whether or not they would have seen the iceberg from farther away, he replied that he would have seen it “a bit sooner”. When asked “How much sooner?” he responded: “Well, enough to get out of the way.”

Leaving the binoculars behind is the equivalent of not calling 811 first. 811 is a safety measure – and, we may add, a safety measure that costs you nothing.

There is always time to take the time for safety. While April is designated as National Safe Digging month, the other eleven months of the year are also a time to practice the hallmarks of safe digging.

And the number one hallmark of safe digging is to ALWAYS call 811 prior to ANY dig.

Because waiting to call until after the water is pouring in at an estimated rate of nearly 2,000 gallons per second isn’t going to do you any good at all.

Until next week, safe digging!

By Scott Finley

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