Underground Service Locating

Underground service locating is an essential part of any construction project planning to disturb the subsurface. Knowing what’s below before you begin is the key to successful excavation.

That is where the experience of Geoscope Utility Detection Services comes in. Our underground service locating experience around the Sydney and NSW network is extensive ensuring the best possible outcome for locating buried pipes and cables on your project.

Underground services are the cables, pipes, and equipment providing utilities to homes, businesses, and public buildings. This includes items like electricity cables, water pipes, phone lines, and gas pipes. They’re buried below surface level, and though you can’t see them from ground level, their labyrinthine networks provide Australia with essential services.

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Anywhere you walk – especially in cities and built up areas, you’re likely walking over these underground services without even knowing. There’s a whole network of cables and pipes under your feet. Without them, we wouldn’t have all the modern conveniences that we enjoy like super-fast internet access and reliable electricity.

Damaging these underground services during construction or excavation works is dangerous. It can cause fatal or severe injuries to workmen, disruptions in local utility services and delays to the work you’re carrying out. Not to mention the considerable costs of repairing them, and the damages you would be liable for. If you’re carrying out any building work that will penetrate the ground there’s a risk you’ll make contact with them, so it’s important to understand how to locate them and what your responsibilities are.

Why might you need to locate underground services?

Most of the time, you don’t need to know what’s going on below the surface. But if you’re planning building or renovation work that breaks ground, you need to be certain that you aren’t going to disturb this network of underground services. The consequences of not doing so can be enormous.

If you’re breaking the ground, you have a responsibility to locate any underground services before you start digging. You’ll also need to ensure that your planned works don’t damage the pipes, commonly referred to as a utility strike.

If you have management or control of the excavation site, then it’s your legal obligation to locate any underground service before digging.

Regulation 304: 

A person with management or control of the workplace must, before directing or allowing work to commence, take all reasonable steps to obtain current underground essential services information about the areas at the workplace where the excavation work is to be carried out.

They must also obtain information about underground essential services in areas adjacent to the site of excavation and have regard for all of the information.

There are many types of underground services, from Telstra fibre optic cables to Sydney Water sewer pipes, and all of them have different owners that you need to contact before you begin any work that disturbs the subsurface.

But with so many companies providing utilities, where do you even start? Luckily, there’s a fairly straightforward way to get the ball rolling. If you have any planned earthworks, excavations, drilling or digging works, you must Dial Before You Dig (DBYD).

What is Dial Before You Dig (DYBD) and how much does it cost?

‘Dial Before You Dig’ is a free national service that provides a single point of contact for information about the location of underground utilities at a planned project site. Their job is to prevent any damage and disruption to Australia’s essential infrastructure networks.

Anyone planning to dig, whether it’s for renovations at home, a civil construction project, or work on a Transport NSW project should contact Dial Before You Dig before they break ground. The information they provide can help you avoid a dangerous and costly utility strike.

As well as being free, it’s also really simple to use the DBYD service. You’ll need to register as a new user if it’s your first time completing a DBYD request, but that only takes a few minutes.

Once you’re registered, you can request the information you need via their desktop or mobile website; calling 1100 (toll free, during business hours); or if you’re fancy like that – the iPhone app.

Make sure you have the details of the project handy to fill in your request. You’ll need:

  • The start date of the project, and the expected completion date
  • The type of work you’re doing
  • The geographical location of your project
  • Whether the work is being done for a utility, council or private entity

Once you’ve completed your request, you should receive the plans and accompanying information from each relevant asset owner within 48 hours.

What are the risks of not accurately locating underground services?

So, what’s the potential risk of leaving it to chance? Maybe you’re not planning on digging very deep, or you have liability insurance that you believe will cover you.

You might want to think again.

We all tend to take the services provided by these underground utilities for granted. However, if you’ve ever experienced an electricity black-out or been affected by a damaged cable cutting off your internet connection, you’ll have a small-scale idea of how critical it is that these underground services remain intact.

It’s not just inconvenient to your local community if you damage these pipes or cables. It can be incredibly dangerous too. Depending on the affected service, and the specific pipe or cable, it could impact the entire country.

Imagine being responsible for hundreds or thousands of Australians losing access to Wi-Fi!

Then there’s the cost of fixing the damage. You could find yourself presented with a bill that runs into millions of dollars – or even higher!

Even if you have insurance covering you for millions of dollars, in some cases the disruption you cause can be worth upwards a couple of million dollars a MINUTE. Standard public liability is only 20 million, which gives you maybe ten minutes to put it right before you’re forced out of business. Even with $100 million of cover, you’ve got less than two hours.

More importantly, these underground services provide gas delivered at high pressure, and high voltage electricity at over 100,000 volts between substations. Accidentally hitting the pipes and cables of these services can lead to serious injuries and damage to the local community. There’s even the possibility of state or nation-wide interruptions to services. Most worryingly, cutting through the gas pipes could produce a devastating explosion.

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Utility owners – commonly referred to as asset owners- have a duty of care to protect our communities from this kind of devastation; and so does anyone undertaking digging or excavation works as per New South Wales legislation. Which is why the asset owners monitor these lines very closely – by both land and air, to make sure no unauthorised works take place near the gas line.

Prevention is better than cure, so why tolerate that level of risk and leave yourself open to hefty damages and legal action?
Geoscope can take the pressure off. We provide accurate underground service locating for businesses and individuals planning ground-breaking building work in Sydney and the surrounding areas, so you can dig with confidence

How do you locate underground services?

Fulfilling your duty of care and locating underground services isn’t rocket science, but it does need specialist attention to detail. You or your team could get the plans and do the work yourselves, but it’s very high-risk if you get it wrong. Calling in the experts is always the best option in terms of both time and expense.

Signs that underground services may be present on or near an excavation site:

Although the services are underground, there may be visual clues on and around the site that point to the presence of underground utilities. Some signs to look for are:

Manhole coversPit lidsPillarsHydrant lids
Stop valvesPad mount substationsTransformersStorm water grates
Fire hydrantsGas metersCommunication roomsVent lines
Backflow prevention valvesWater metersLight towersCathodic protection posts
Service cabinetsKerb marking pinsRoad trench scaringGround depressions from soil sinkage
Underground Overhead cable runs (UGOH)Sign postsHydrant valvesTrap doors
Access shaftsElectricity turretsHistoric aerial imageryCivil construction material
Domestic servicesMeter box  

Underground service locating devices

Looking below the surface and locating underground services without specialist help can be tricky. DBYD plans often only give an indication of the location of underground services on your site. The drawings don’t include service lead-ins to properties and may not even fully identify all underground pipes or cables.

So what do you do after getting the DBYD plans? Are they enough? The Australian Standard AS 5488 identifies 4 different classes of accuracy levels.

Utility must be located, then potholed. It must be physically sighted and measured.

Traced laterally, with depth detail, between two known points

from surface features

any other method such as sole reliance on DBYD plans

As the DBYD plans are just an indication, using those alone only achieves Class D accuracy. Locating the services with electromagnetic methods and recording their depth and location fall under Class B. To achieve Class A, as we highly recommend, physical sighting is also necessary.

It’s wise to not assume that the underground service locations as per the plans are not completely correct. It’s not uncommon for us to visit a site and discover during a utility survey that there are more services than indicated on the DBYD plans.

The plans also have a used by date, usually 30 days but they can be slightly longer or shorter depending on the asset owner. This is to take into account subsequent construction or roadworks that have had an impact on the underlying infrastructure.

It’s not just inaccurate plans that you need to be mindful of. There’s also the fact that not all of Australia’s underground service owners are members of DBYD. So, while the plans give you a great starting point, they should only be used alongside suitable underground service locating devices, and potholing.
These utility locating devices need to be operated by a fully trained and competent person. Relying on inexperienced staff to complete your underground service locating can leave you open to the risk of a utility strike.

Look for locators that are DBYD Certified. To achieve this, they have been assessed in both the theory and the practical side of underground service location. To pass, you need to have been locating for enough time to gather the experience and skillset to complete the most difficult of locating jobs as the assessment is no easy feat.

Other training needed to avoid serious and potentially fatal is confined space entry and rescue. Without the knowledge of the various scenarios possible when lifting and entering manholes and chambers, workers on utility location sites are exposed to numerous dangers.

At Geoscope, we’re DBYD certified and have completed all the necessary training.

We use the most up to date and reliable technology so that you can be assured of safety, accuracy, and reliability. We use both Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and electromagnetic location methods when locating underground services. When combined they’re the most effective non-invasive method of underground service location.

Using these two methods, we can safely and accurately detect all traceable underground services, pipes and cables, plus various conductive and non-conductive utilities.

Electromagnetic locating

Electromagnetic locating is the most frequently employed method used to detect underground services delivered via cables or pipes made of or containing conductive materials such as electrical wiring or copper pipes.

It’s most useful for utilities like water, natural gas, fuel lines, electricity and telephone. In order to detect underground services, a traceable current is passed through the service by directly connecting or coupling a cable with a ring clamp.

The applied current is then carried by the conductor along the length of the pipe or cable. Our receiver, also known as in the construction trade by ‘the magic wand’ is able to pick up the signal frequency and match the output to verify that it’s the correct underground service. Certain types of underground services that emit their own specific frequencies, like live electricity that can emit a 50hz frequency and can potentially be detected solely with a passive sweep of the wand. Further checks are recommended to confirm these passive signals but it’s just another method we use to complete our service locating procedures.

If the electricity circuit is switched off or not in service, you may not be able to detect electrical cables via these methods. If this is the case, our highly trained technicians are able to safely locate the cable via direct connection connecting to a ground strap or earthing rod. This prevents any disruption or exposure to potentially live electricity.

In the hands of Geoscope’s trained and experienced technicians, electromagnetic locating is a safe and reliable means of locating the most common underground assets.

Ground penetrating radar (GPR) locating

Another way of locating underground services is to use ground penetrating radar devices.  These can detect underground services delivered via non-conductive pipes and cables. They achieve this by pulsing electromagnetic waves into the subsurface that allows us to identify non-conductive underground pipes and cables without trace wires or tracer tape; like nylon, blue brute, and plastic conduit.

Another reason we use GPR is that certain conductive pipes and cables are difficult to identify when you’re relying on electromagnetic detection methods alone. In areas with congested duct work and piping, the multiple electromagnetic fields they generate can distort the signals and reduce their accuracy.

Both electromagnetic and GPR locating devices should only be used by certified locators like Geoscope technicians. Operating the equipment requires specialist training and knowledge to interpret the results.

Using the methods described, Geoscope are able to quickly and accurately identify underground utilities. And because we subscribe to the Australian Standard – AS 5488-2013 Classification of Subsurface Utility Information – SUI, our clients have peace of mind. They know that they are fulfilling their duty of care and protecting their business from the risk of striking underground utilities during construction work.

What happens if the DBYD plans and underground services locating devices identify services under the dig site?

It may be that there are no services running through your site – although it’s unlikely, especially in built up areas. In these cases you can simply document the due diligence checks that you made and get on with your construction work!

If, however, you have located underground services on your dig site, you’ll need to document a plan for dealing with them that follows the guidelines laid down by the asset owners.

If there’s a minimum approach distance that the asset owner has stipulated, you’ll need to follow their guidance on how to handle these mechanical excavation ‘No Go Zones.’

To be able to satisfy duty of care commitments, companies and excavator operators must follow the No Go Zone restrictions for both underground and overhead services as set by the relevant State’s Safety Regulators or asset owners. If you are unable to adhere to the minimum approach distance, you’ll need to contact the asset owner straight away so that they can provide additional guidance.

Planning building works that involve breaking ground:

So, let’s recap what your responsibilities are when planning building works that disturb the subsurface.

  • Plan ahead by making a request for DBYD plans at www.1100.com.au for the specific dig site location. It’s important to know that it can take up to 48 hours to get hold of these plans, so lodge a request as soon as you can.
  • The utility owners will respond with plans of their cable and pipe locations. You may receive a number of plans depending on the services running under your site. You will need to have onsite personnel capable of reading and interpreting the plans each underground service owner provides.
  • Many asset owners have minimum approach distances. These stipulate how close your construction works can get to any underground services before you need extra precautions to protect the underground utility. If applicable, the asset owners will provide these with the DBYD response.
  • If the underground service pipes and cables are within these minimum approach distances, you may need an accredited plant locator. These are specialists, issued with a valid accreditation card, who will come on site and locate the underground services.
  • Mark the location of any underground services on the ground of the dig site with the corresponding colour paint. Australian Standard 5488 lays out the colours as: (1) Yellow - Gas, (2) Orange - Power, (3) White - Communications, (4) Blue - Water, (5) Red - High Voltage
  • Now, verify their location by potholing. Potholing is basically digging small holes by hand, or special non-destructive excavation methods to verify that the underground services are located where you expect them to be. Some asset owners even advise that you must expose any pipes, cables or other assets before you begin work.
  • After potholing you’ll need to protect the exposed infrastructure. You can do this by erecting barriers, clearly marking the location, and clearly communicating the location to all site workers.

You should only start to dig after you have followed the steps above and have adequate protective measures in place. Don’t make any assumptions about the location, the burial depth, location or the alignment of an underground service. Contact the asset owner if you encounter any difficulties during the process, or engage with a certified locator like Geoscope to accurately locate the utility assets

Why choose Geoscope to complete the utility survey?

Geoscope are underground service locators, specialising in precise detection of underground utilities, buried pipes and cables in Sydney and the surrounding areas.  Using both Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) and electromagnetic methods, we’re able to locate all traceable underground services, pipes and cables, and various conductive and non-conductive utilities.

Plus, we’re passionate about quality and safety, which is why we’ve adopted the Australian Standard, and are certified DBYD locators, having completed the very thorough assessment.

Working with us to locate underground services will not only reduce unexpected delays from possible damages, but also reduces design and construction costs.

We’re experts in various aspects of underground service locating, including:

  • DBYD plan acquisition and consultancy
  • Analysing underground utility drawings
  • Pipe Locating and Buried Cable Locations
  • Underground Utility Detection
  • Service locator searches
  • Utility Mapping and CAD plans
  • Subsurface Utility Engineering

Our highly-skilled technicians are experienced in subsurface utility engineering processes even on complex sites. So, if you’ve got some construction works in the pipeline, contact Geoscope to get your project on the right track from the very start with Sydney’s Underground Service Locating Specialist – Geoscope.

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