Digging Without Danger: Staying Safe with Pennsylvania 811

digging© Kolbz / Getty Images Signature / Canva

April is National Safe Digging Month, and while it might not sound like the most exciting celebration, it’s essential to homeowners and professional excavators alike. Digging without proper knowledge can be incredibly dangerous and could damage the underground infrastructure, costing you and the community a lot of time, headaches, and even money. Luckily, Pennsylvania offers a valuable resource to anyone involved in digging projects. Pennsylvania 811 is the state’s resources center that helps prevent accidental digging into underground lines, helping to keep you safe this construction season.

What is Pennsylvania 811 and how it can help you stay safe when digging

Pennsylvania 811 is a central call center that serves as a communication link between underground facility owners and those who need to dig. With one convenient phone call or web portal entry, 811 will notify all member underground utility companies related to your excavation site. These companies will then mark the location of their lines, pipes, and conduit below the surface before you begin digging, taking the guesswork out of the excavation. By doing so, it helps to keep everyone safe by preventing potential damage to both underground and surface utilities.

“A facility owner provides the approximate position of their underground lines at the excavation site within eighteen inches horizontally from the outside edge of a line or facility,” said Bill Kiger, Pennsylvania 811, President/Chief Executive Officer. “Within the tolerance zone, an excavator employs prudent excavation techniques. This may involve hand-dug test holes until the utility line is exposed, or the use of vacuum excavation. If an excavator damages a line with a spoon, they’re not using prudent techniques.”

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The importance of calling before you dig – what happens if you don’t

The consequences of not calling 811 before you dig can be substantial, resulting in property damage, personal injury, and even death. Perhaps even more, it’s often very costly, with excavation or repair fees, restitution for other damages, and fines for breaking the law. In some cases, homeowners, as well as professionals, might even have to face liability lawsuits, meaning you could be financially responsible for any damage done or expenses incurred. The bottom line is that you can’t always tell what’s beneath the ground, but you can know for sure by contacting Pennsylvania 811 at least three business days before any excavation.

Tips for safely locating and marking underground utilities

While Pennsylvania 811 does the heavy lifting with marking utilities, it’s essential to do your part in staying safe as well. One helpful tip is to indicate the area where you’ll be digging with spray paint, flags, or other markers. Organize an explanatory meeting with excavators, repair crews, and anyone else who might be at the site to ensure everyone is working with a full understanding of their needs, roles, and responsibilities when different pipes&lines become exposed. Proper coordination, clear communication, and careful planning can help minimize risks associated with excavation.

Common tools used in safe digging practices

Safe digging requires the right sets of tools, including shovels, spades, digging bars, hand saws, and gloves. These hand-held tools are helpful for manual excavation, digging next to underground utilities, and exposing utilities with precision, without the danger of damaging any conduits or wires. For those seeking higher efficiencies and potential cost savings, various professional-grade excavators, trenchers, and drilling equipment, all-surface marking devices too can also help safe digging practices, all while reducing excavation time and increasing safety.

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How to check the depth of your excavation

Digging deeper than necessary can put you at high risk of hitting an underground utility line or pipe. Always check the depth of your excavation by measuring and confirming the location with a line locator. These small devices allow you to confirm the location of the utility line, air conduit, or gas pipe, ensuring that you know when you’re close to the line to avoid disaster or potential danger.

Best practices for filling and restoring disturbed areas after a job is complete

Once you’ve finished, it’s critical to ensure the area is back to spec. Review your local guidelines and ensure that you know what type of materials, including dirt excavation zones, are allowed in the area. The goal is to restore the area to its original state, as if you were never there at all! It might take some time and effort, but it is a necessary part of staying safe when digging and is worth the investment.


Before you plan to dig, make sure to call 811 in advance! This one call could save you thousands of dollars in expenses, headaches, and potential injury. Keep in mind that being prepared is the key to safe digging. Proper communication with all parties involved, the appropriate tools, and the right knowledge will help prevent any accidents or damage to underground lines, ensuring a trouble and worry-free excavation process. This National Safe Digging Month, remember to always dig smart and stay safe with Pennsylvania 811.

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