Managing Utility Locate Limitations


Is it safe to dig here?

Public and Private Locate Technicians sometimes state a limitation on their report with respect to unknown or known buried facilities that limited their ability to trace a buried facility for whatever reason. If a limitation or special instruction is noted on the private locate report, it needs to be acted upon before excavating.


Any limitation that a Locator faces while investigating, locating, and marking, increases the risk of them missing a buried facility and increases the risk for the excavator of striking a buried facility if the limitation is not mitigated. These limitations can be grouped into two types:


Unavoidable Limitations

  • non-tonable facilities

  • non-locatable facilities due to depth or angled facilities

  • fixes or repairs with non-conductive materials

  • non-functioning tracer wires

  • no tracer wires on non-tonable facilities

  • no utility-owned records


Avoidable Limitations

  • no utility records or records that exist and are available

  • no access to buildings and mechanical rooms

  • no direct access to connection points for facilities

  • no access to someone knowledgeable of the property’s utility infrastructure and mechanical systems

When any of these limitations are identified, notify your Supervisor, Project Manager, Client and/or Private Utility Owner and don’t proceed with mechanical excavation activities until clear direction is given from the private utility owner.


Typical private utility owner directions to manage any of these limitations when excavating can include:

  • avoiding the work area altogether;

  • hand digging; or

  • soft digging using air or water vacuum techniques

Knowing how to manage these locate limitations and knowing the options needed to mitigate these limitations, is critical to avoid striking a buried public or private facility.