Know the ground rules: Call 811 before digging

Know the ground rules: Call 811 before digging

More than 40 percent of homeowners who plan to dig for do-it-yourself projects will put themselves and others at risk by not calling 811, a national survey found. In observance of National Safe Digging Month in April, Rock Energy Cooperative urges all members to call 811 before every digging project so underground utilities can be marked.

Digging without knowing the approximate location can result in service disruptions, costly repairs, serious injuries, and even death if gas, electric, communications, water, and sewer lines are damaged.

The national public opinion survey was conducted by Common Ground Alliance, a nationwide association dedicated to protecting underground utility lines and the safety of people who dig near them.

A separate survey of Rock Energy members in Illinois produced similar results. A total of 88 percent of respondents were familiar with the “Call 811 Before You Dig” program, but only 68 percent actually made the call before digging.

“Calling 811 in advance of any home improvement project that requires digging, even something as simple as installing a mailbox, is critical to preventing incidents like service outages or injuries,” said Randy Gant, natural gas superintendent at Rock Energy.

Survey respondents who didn’t call 811 said they already knew the location of underground utilities because they had made the call before completing previous projects.

Gant, however, said the call must be made before every digging project. It’s required by law, and it’s a free service, he added.

“You must call 811 before you dig, each and every time,” Gant said.

One survey response showed that the member understood the dangers of not calling 811.

“We put in a dog fence and tapped in posts about 4 inches,” the respondent said. “We called first and proceeded only after having been approved for the intended area.


What happens when you call 811?

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  • Your call is routed to your local One Call Center. That’s Diggers Hotline in Wisconsin and JULIE (Joint Utility Locating Information for Excavators) in Illinois.
  • Wisconsin requires the call to be made three business days before the start of the project, while Illinois law specifies two business days.
  • You will be asked for your digging project’s location and description.
  • Utility companies will send a professional locator to the proposed area to mark any buried lines with flags.
  • Wait until your official project start date before beginning to dig to make sure all the utilities have been marked. If your planned work site is marked, don’t dig in that area or you may hit underground utilities.
  • In Wisconsin, your project must begin within 10 days of your official start date. In Illinois, work must begin within 14 days of your locate request and is valid for 28 days.