7 Common Utility Location Misconceptions

Utililty Location Operator

Any company undertaking an excavation project must have underground utility locating services high on their checklist. The two go hand-in-hand. Skipping this stage or using an unqualified utility location technician can quickly turn your project into a nightmare. The risk of an accident, budget blowouts or a delay in operations will increase dramatically. 

So, what should you expect from your utility location provider? There are a lot of myths as to what a utility locator (and utility location equipment) can do. Hopefully, we’ll lay some of those untruths to rest. Here are the seven most common utility location misconceptions. 

1. You can measure the exact depth of a utility


The first step in utility detection is to confirm their location. That, in itself, involves the use of highly advanced machinery and a qualified operator. Determining the location can also depend on the density of the ground surface. High density ground materials, like clay, can reduce the strength of the signal. Once the utility has been detected on the radar and marked, it is up to the excavator to carefully expose the area and determine the exact depth of the utility. To ensure that no accidental damage occurs, many construction companies choose vacuum excavation as the preferred method. This non-invasive procedure should be carried out by an experienced operator like Abaxa.        

2. A utility locator can determine whether a utility is live or dead

The short answer is no. While we have the technology to locate cables and other buried services, there is no way to check whether the cable/service is live or dead. As with all excavation, never assume anything. Electrical utility cables should be exposed and tested by a qualified technician as they are often more difficult to confirm. The preferred method for exposing electrical cables is either vacuum excavation or potholing (digging with hand tools).    

3. You can use existing reference plans as a guide

Mapping underground utilities

While it’s wise to obtain existing reference plans for your excavation project, you should never assume that the markings are 100% correct. Some plans can be many years old and may not be the most up to date. Even Dial Before You Dig (DBYD) plans may only indicate the existence of something below the surface. It’s not uncommon for what’s been confirmed on-site to differ from what is shown on DBYD plans.

4. A Cable  Locator and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) do the same thing

At a glance, it may seem that both products do the same thing – locate objects beneath the surface. However, cable locators and GPRs are different and have their advantages and limitations. Cable locators can only locate conductive services. A GPR can detect both conductive and non-conductive objects but will not indicate exactly what they are. It’s not uncommon to use a GPR and cable locator for the same project to ensure that all services in the cleared area are located.

5. Anyone can operate the utility locating machinery

Detecting underground utilities

A utility locator must obtain several accreditations and have years of practical experience before they are considered a qualified technician. These accreditations include:

DBYD Accreditation – theory and practical testing and assessment. 

RIICCM202A: Identify, Locate & Protect Underground Services – this nationally recognised accreditation verifies the competency of each contractor. 

Australian Standard 5488.1-2019 – this provides a framework for the classification of subsurface utility location.

WHS Legislation – utility locators need to comply with the WHS regulations that align with their state or territory’s safe work code of practice.

6. Once a utility has been marked, that site won’t need to be checked & re-marked in the future

There are a lot of variable factors that can affect the results of a utility location check. It’s always advised that if any further excavation is required at a later date, the site supervisor should organise another scan of the area. This is especially important as the seasons change. Weather can affect the soil conditions and the performance of the locating equipment. 

7. You’ve excavated many times before, it’s all the same

abaxa team

Acting complacent on a worksite is a recipe for disaster. Using an experienced utility locator who complies with safety-first procedures can ensure your excavation becomes low risk. Abaxa’s systemised and accurate utility location services follow strict safety guidelines to ensure that your project avoids risk or unnecessary time delays.

If you’re planning an excavation and want to ensure you’ve properly mapped all the underground utilities, contact WA’s most experienced utility location service provider. Abaxa has been helping businesses improve their worksite safety for over 30 years. 

For more information on utility location or to book a project discovery meeting, contact the team at Abaxa today.

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