In testimony today before the House Consumer Affairs Committee, Pennsylvania American Water Senior Director of Field Operations for Western Pennsylvania Deborah Lippert advocated legislative changes being proposed under House Bill 1607, which would transfer enforcement of the Underground Utility Law Protection Act (UULP) – including the PA One Call System – from the Department of Labor and Industry to the Public Utility Commission (PUC).
Lippert testified that the transfer of enforcement is consistent with the current regulatory obligations of the Commission. “Without a doubt, the oversight of underground utilities is within the PUC’s wheelhouse,” said Lippert. “The PA One Call System has done an extraordinary job in its efforts to minimize critical utility service interruptions, reducing on-the-job injuries and deaths by promoting a higher level of awareness of public safety.”
The PA One Call System (
) notifies the appropriate utility companies when homeowners and contractors contact 8-1-1 of their plans to dig. Professional locators are then sent to the requested digging site to mark the approximate locations of underground lines with flags, spray paint or both.
Lippert also called for tightening provisions within HB 1607 to address worker safety concerns related to a practice known as “utility stacking.” The hazard occurs when one utility, such as water, sewer or gas and another utility, such as gas, electric or cable, uses the same trench and places its line directly above the first utility. The law currently requires 18-inches of separation, and Lippert said Pennsylvania American Water strongly recommends language to require that there is at least 18 inches of “horizontal clearance” within utility trenches for new installations.
Lippert said, “Eighteen inches is all that is now required to separate water from electric … water from gas … safety from danger. The practice of utility stacking not only endangers our workers, it can lead to disruption of service for several utilities, and it can put an entire community at risk.”