Safety is job one for any excavation work site. Damage prevention is a critical issue around pipelines and utilities. Daily news reports of occurrences of damaged utilities, destroyed property and personal injury plague these sites. Congested underground infrastructure adds to the complexity of installation, maintenance and repairs.
Introducing the Hydro Excavator
Contractors, public agencies and companies are changing their approach to below grade digging and its dangers. Vacuum excavation, or soft-dig to expose underground utilities, is becoming the new standard and is the preferred method for digging safely.
A common project for a hydro excavator crew is to provide potholing and daylighting services. Increased awareness of the technology and site specific safety plans are now being adopted and implemented by railway, telecommunications, and pipeline companies. Some municipalities and utility companies consider this as an essential phase of below grade construction for all types of digging.
This equipment can safely expose buried utility lines to daylight (daylighting). A maze of buried facilities of natural gas, oil products, electricity, telecommunications, water, and wastewater lay beneath the ground.
The equipment can be used to dig a test hole to expose buried utilities (potholing) to verify the proper below grade location of the facility, once the horizontal and vertical below grade position has been identified via GPS or traditional survey methods.
A hydro excavator uses high pressure hot or cold water to loosen the soil. Precision cutting of the hole, coupled with a vacuum hose quickly transfers the soil into a large vacuum truck tank. Once the hydro dig hole has been exposed and serviced by the utility company, it can be quickly and cleanly rehabilitated.
Work Site Safety
A mechanical excavator is prone to damaging facilities and disrupting utility services. Most service interruptions are because of operator error, unmarked or missed marked surface locates, unknown lines, and incorrect construction methods.
In addition, the primary concern while using hydro excavators is workers’ safety and the general public. Workers can suffer from back injuries, repetitive strain injuries, and from trench cave-ins using traditional mechanical or manual trenching and excavation methods.
Using a hydro excavator can prevent damage to cable coatings and pipelines that, if struck, could lead to future corrosion or structural failure.
Construction site safety program is critical. Proper equipment operation can safely expose live electrical lines and other types of sensitive utilities such as BBC or plastic pipe, soft coated pipes and electrical lines.
Despite their advantages over traditional equipment, these high pressure hydo vacuum excavators are capable of cutting through cables or damaging pipe if not used with care and proper operational caution.
Occupational health and safety boards (like OSHA - Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the US) is recognizing the hydro excavator as a safer alternative to digging by hand and to expose and locate below-grade utilities. For example, in the US, OSHA 29 CFR 1926.651 addresses hydro-vacuum excavation to locate buried utilities.
Hydro excavator technology has been used for years by the oil industry to dig around high pressure pipelines in congested areas. This industry drove the improved design of the machine to performance levels that other industries have now started to benefit.