Knowing What’s Below Benefits Everyone

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has launched  “Each One…Outreach to One,” an initiative aimed at bringing greater awareness to damage prevention
By Daniel Creekmur

When you turned the faucet for hot water, or lit a burner on your stove or flipped on a light switch this morning, you probably didn’t think about safety. That’s understandable. Utilities are focused on providing safe and reliable service, so most may take it for granted. But all of us—utilities, municipalities, contractors, and consumers—need to think about safety. That’s because safety is a partnership, and we need everyone on the same team.

Companies like Columbia Gas of Ohio are responsible for maintaining lines that deliver natural gas to homes, schools, hospitals, factories, stores, and others. Just as aging roads, bridges, sewers and the like need to be replaced, our industry faces the challenge of replacing aging gas lines.

To meet that challenge, we are investing $243 million in our infrastructure this year alone. On these projects across Ohio, our crews are hard at work replacing aging bare steel and cast iron natural gas lines with efficient and long-lasting plastic lines. We work alongside our municipal partners every day to ensure construction and infrastructure projects are safe and executed smoothly, with minimal impact to our customers and communities.

… performance contracting has become a key funding tool for sustainability planning and improving infrastructure.

However, aging infrastructure is not our biggest safety challenge. The top safety risk to our natural gas system is excavation damage. Seems shocking that the biggest threat to our system is someone digging. But it’s true.

In Ohio alone, between 1988 and 2014, there were 1,815 pipeline incidents caused by excavation damage that resulted in 193 deaths, 757 injuries, and nearly $545 million in property damage. Those numbers concern me. There is a real danger.

These incidents might have been prevented with a simple phone call to 811. Calling 811 is free, it’s easy, and in Ohio along with many other states, it’s the law. Calling 811 alerts utilities to mark their lines. Locate requests can be also made online or even from an app on your phone, depending on your state. That’s one easy way you can partner with us to keep our communities, customers, and employees safe.

Columbia Gas is focused on raising awareness about 811. The message is simple: If you do ANY digging project, even something simple as planting a tree, you need to call 811 two days before. You’ll see the same message across the country, on billboards, radio, TV, online ads, social media, etc.

We need you to partner with us to spread the word. Talk to your constituents and clients. Remind your family, neighbors, and friends when they mention digging projects. Let your employees know how important it is to keep underground infrastructure safe.

Excavators are one of our most important safety partners. Our employees reach out to contractors and municipalities to share the importance of safe digging and answer questions. They know excavators have a job to do. So, they troubleshoot to keep crews working.

While the requirement to call before digging has been in place for many years, there has been no enforcement process in many states. In Ohio, Senate Bill 378 created a new enforcement process that took effect on January 1, 2016. Commercial excavators, utilities, designers, and developers who fail to follow safe digging practices may be subject to penalties and fines.

Columbia cares about the safety of everyone in the community. That includes customers, excavators, emergency responders, and our fellow employees. It’s how we hold up our end of the safety partnership.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has launched “Each One…Outreach to One,” an initiative aimed at bringing greater awareness to damage prevention, calling 811, and enforcement of excavation laws by encouraging each to reach out to just one other person in their community by calling 811 before digging.

In that spirit, I want to ask everyone a favor. Share this message with just one person. Be a part of this grassroots effort. Don’t do it for me or your utility company. Do it for your neighbors, friends, and family and for the safety of the communities you call home.
Daniel Creekmur is the president of Columbia Gas of Ohio, the largest natural gas distribution company in Ohio. For more information visit