September Town Hall | What are the best practices for preventing damage to electric cables above and below ground?

electric lookupandlive Nov 21, 2022

September Town Hall | What are the best practices for preventing damage to electric cables above and below ground?


Moderator: Mike Sullivan, President, Utility Safety Partners


  • Kelley Heinz, Damage Prevention Manager, Comed
  • Glen “Cookie” Cook, Principal Community Safety Specialist, Energy Queensland
  • Cliff Meidl, Motivational & Safety Speaker, Cliff Meidl Enterprises, LLC
  • Sher Kirk, Operations Director, Utility Safety Partners

According to the federal Energy Information Agency, “underground power lines make up about 18% of U.S. transmission lines” as of 2014. Although that number has grown over the last decade, many wonder why the distribution of overhead and underground is composed the way it is. Well, it largely comes down to cost. According to PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric Company), “it costs about $3 million per mile to convert underground electric distribution lines from overhead, while the cost to build a mile of new overhead line is less than a third of that, at approximately $800,000 per mile.” For the foreseeable future, our electric grid will continue to be made up of overhead and underground assets and it is in our best interest to keep it protected through any and all effective damage prevention and excavation safety practices we can implement as an industry.

There were 17,623 unique damages to electric facilities reported in the 2021 DIRT Report, which covers the United States and Canada. This represents a 43.8% decrease from 2020 and a 59.3% decrease from 2019. This is a great trend that will hopefully continue, but as we know, coming into contact with an electric line cannot only disrupt service, resulting in costly repairs, but it can also lead to injury or even death. It only takes one hit to change a life, just ask our panelist, Cliff Meidl.

In this virtual Excavation Safety Alliance Town Hall that took place on September 8th, our moderator and panelists brought their varied perspectives from the United States, Canada, and Australia and tackled a slew of questions related to the topic, such as:

  • How are these utilities being damaged?
  • How are damage prevention practices evolving?
  • Do Utility Coordinating Councils play a role in overhead asset protection?
  • What are the penalties for repeat offenders?
  • What are the benefits of making a locate request online?
  • Why do excavators build damages into their bids? How can we address this?

Our ESA members chimed in early and often and below are just a couple of those interesting comments that arose during the discussion

“Excavators aren't afraid of enforcement especially when you’re talking about jobs worth hundreds of thousand dollars or into the millions. A fine is a drop in the bucket for large excavators.”

- James Baum, Atmos Energy

“Auto accidents are reported to insurance databases and effects your ability to get insurance, what about reporting damages to insurance carriers to affect the habitual contractors?”

- Michelle Brannon, Power Line Safety Initiative

Want to view the full ESA September Town Hall for yourself and hear exactly what our panelists had to say? Click HERE! We encourage you to participate in future ESA Town Halls and to suggest topics of interest to YOU. Want to attend an in-person Town Hall? Join us for the annual Global Excavation Safety Conference. For more details and to register, visit

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