• Locate management News

    Key to Resolving Locating Obstacles

    Oct 17 2018

    Damages to buried facilities resulting from insufficient locating practices can be costly.

    Statistics gathered from accident files, news reports, and the CGA’s Damage Information Reporting Tool (DIRT) Analysis and Recommendations report continue to conclude that locating practices are insufficient.

    Locating equipment manufacturers advertise that their products make locating easy and fast. However, the report “Encouraging Innovation in Locating and Characterizing Underground Utilities”, by the Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC), concluded “At present, there is no prospect that a tool will be developed in the foreseeable future that can simply and quickly locate and characterize all buried utilities at a site. In truth, there is little likelihood that such a tool could ever be developed.”

    We need to recognize that locating technologies are only as good as the human operating them. People are born with the greatest processing mechanism in the world — their brain. However, it’s unfortunate that we don’t make better use of its power. The best solution for resolving locating problems is quite simply “adequate education and training”.

    Despite the extensive network of underground facilities across North America, very few formal education and training institutions specifically address system design, construction standards, plant recognition, advanced locating methods and problem-solving skills for locators.

    Continuing down the path of minimal education, will undoubtedly result in more frequent and catastrophic line strikes.The CGA Best Practices states that locators are properly trained and that the training is documented. These practices define minimum guidelines and practices for locator training, including the following bullet points:

    • Understanding facility records or prints – Details shown on records assist locators in determining if facilities shown on records matches those on site. These also should help the locator to determine where to begin the locate. Unfortunately, these typically do not include important information pertaining to obstacles that might affect the locate.

    • Understanding construction standards and practices - although this is essential, standard layouts are the exception rather than the norm. Locators need to ask themselves:

    • What type of facility needs to be located? Are these conductive or non-conductive?
    • What construction method was used to install the facility? Was it plowed, trenched, pushed, pulled or bored?
    • Is the facility in a joint or common trench?
    • What type of ground disturbance is to be completed? New construction, horizontal directional drilling (HDD), vertical drilling, leveling, pile driving, anchoring, planting, blasting, stabilizing, auguring, etc.
    • What safety procedures must be followed when locating around traffic, gaseous atmospheres, electric power cables, or any other hazardous environments?


    • Theory of Locating – This should include:

    • applying an active signal
    • frequency as it applies to electromagnetic locating
    • how conductor types affect conductivity
    • electrical isolation and bonding
    • why signal distortions occur and how to minimize unwanted coupling
    • various grounding techniques to create better signals


    • Daily Operations – Locating involves several processes including receiving a locate request, gathering and reviewing documentation, and performing, confirming and documenting the locate.

    • Facility Owner/Excavator Relationships and Image –Today, with real-time access to events as they occur and knowing the impact on society from past line strikes, it is more important than ever for locators to maintain a positive relationship and image with facility owners and excavators.

    • Safety Procedures Per Federal, State/Provincial and Local Laws – Locators are responsible to know and adhere to and abundance of regulations, which require facility owners and employers to ensure that locators who work on their behalf are qualified.

    • Written and field testing – Written tests must be beyond basic knowledge and field testing must include pertinent abnormal operating conditions (AOC’s). Testing helps to determine a locator’s equipment operation and locating trouble shooting skills.

    • Field training – Must validate the knowledge components of training and include:

    • recognizing, evaluating and controlling all hazards associated with the work activities
    • proper procedures for locating under normal and adverse conditions
    • observation and positive confirmation training
    • marking procedures and guidelines.

    As a child, most of us have probably played “connect the dots”. Just as this game teaches number and letter recognition while drawing lines to create an image, Locators are tasked and expected to connect the dots to form accurate images, while using inadequate equipment, utilizing inaccurate or incomplete records, or having minimal education and training.

    • Annual retesting – To substantiate the competencies of the locator and should include both written and field testing.

    Clearly insufficient locating practices, as the root cause of many accidents, is a direct result of inadequate education. Without adequate training it is virtually impossible to perform locates with any degree of success and is mission impossible.

    As facilities need to be replaced, rehabilitated or maintained, and as new lines are needed to serve new developments, the potential for damage and the value of improved locating grows.

    Adequate locator education will enable locators to gather and assimilate information and make informed decisions during the locating process to help ensure public safety by preventing facility damages.

    Unfortunately, too many Locators “fly by the seat of their pants”, which results in economic, environmental and human consequences.

    Stakeholders must ensure that locators are adequately educated and trained in innovative solutions under both normal and abnormal operating conditions.

    Adequate education and training is critical for resolving locating obstacles.

Copyright 2019 by Locate Management