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Underground Damage Prevention Overview

The Safety Division administers the Underground Utility Damage Prevention Program to ensure public safety and minimize damage to underground facilities.  Third party excavation continues to be the number one cause of damages to underground facilities in New Hampshire and nationally.  

Over the last 14 years (2002 to 2016) New Hampshire experienced a 39% increase in calls into the DigSafe center, reflecting strong construction activity, greater public awareness of excavation dangers including awareness of 811 notification system, and an increase in the amount of utility underground infrastructure.   During the same time period, New Hampshire has experienced a 41% decrease in the number of reported damages and other probable violations.  This is indicative of continued enforcement, ongoing Safety Division training, increased advertising and other public outreach efforts by all utilities and stakeholders.   Annually each spring, the Safety Division co-sponsors with Managing Underground Safety Training (MUST) at least three Dig Safe® damage prevention seminars state-wide with over 500 participants in attendance.

Underground Damage Prevention Laws are listed in RSA 374:48-56 and more specific Public Utilities Commission rules are found in Administrative Rules Puc 800. In February 2017, the latest revision to the PUC 800 Rules took effect and can be found in Docket No. DRM-16-508.

The Safety Division inspects construction sites for damage prevention compliance, investigates reported damage, and issues citations when probable violations are identified.  In 2018 the Division processed 162 reports of damage to underground facilities. 

The Safety Division sponsors a number of Dig Safe damage prevention seminars and education opportunities throughout the state.  Three types of training are provided:

  • Annual Seminars geared toward general contractors, presented in conjunction with utilities;
  • Trainings conducted at company headquarters upon request; and
  • Training conducted at Commission offices to address with civil penalties and specific contractor violations.

The Safety Division was recognized by PHMSA in its recent 2014 assessment as one of twenty states to achieve a perfect score for its Underground Utility Damage Prevention Program for nine basic elements, including enhanced communication between operators and excavators, partnership in public and employee education and training, and fair and consistent enforcement of the law. 

In 2016, The U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA’s) Office of Pipeline Safety began auditing the Safety Division’s program regarding Underground Damage Prevention.

Criteria to be Used to Evaluate State Excavation Damage Prevention Law Enforcement Program:

  1. Does the state have enforcement authority including civil penalties?
  2. Is there a designated enforcement body?
  3. Is the state using its authority and making enforcement records available to the public?
  4. Does the state have a reliable means of learning about damages?
  5. Does the state have damage investigation practices that are adequate to determine the at-fault party when damage occurs?
  6. At a minimum, does state law require:
    a. Excavators must call 811 before digging
    b. Excavators must "respect the marks"
    c. If damage to a pipeline occurs ...
         i. Excavator must report damage to operator at earliest practical moment
         ii. If release occurs, excavator must call 911
  7. Are exemptions from the DP law limited? Written justification of exemptions is required.

Upon completion of PHMSA’s  audit, The Safety  Division received a  perfect score. 

In September 2016, New Hampshire received an “Adequate” ranking and perfect score in the initial evaluation of the State Excavation Damage Prevention Law Enforcement Program (Part 198) performed by PHMSA. New Hampshire has no requirement to adopt Part 196 since the state rules are more prescriptive and enforceable and an Adequacy determination was made regarding effectiveness.

In July 2017, New Hampshire was verbally informed that again it would receive “Adequate” determination in the second review of State Excavation Damage Prevention Law Enforcement Program (Part 198) performed by PHMSA. A written evaluation document from PHMSA was received May 7, 2018 including receiving 248/258 score on the evaluation.

In December 2018, New Hampshire was verbally informed that, again, it would receive “Adequate’ determination in the third review of State Excavation Damage Prevention Law Enforcement Program (Part 198) performed by PHMSA. A written evaluation document from PHMSA has not been received through the calendar year 2018.

Enforcement of the Underground Utility Damage Prevention Program remains a high priority for the Safety Division. Civil penalties totaling more than $80,000 were received over the latest two year period, all of which were applied to the State’s General Fund.  Educational training for contractors is also conducted by staff in lieu of civil penalties, totaling an equivalent value of $20,000.  Since 2004, over $800,000 has been collected in civil penalties.

For more information see Education and Training.

Before beginning your excavation, contact the Road Agent or Public Works Dept. in the community where you intend to dig.  For a current list of municipal officials click here:  http://www.nh.gov/dot/org/projectdevelopment/planning/documents/NHOfficialsDirectory.pdf

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