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Unsafe digging presents liability for farmers

Locating underground utility lines may not be at the top of farmers' safety checklists.

As farmers head out to their fields, locating underground utility lines may not be at the top of their safety checklists.

But this knowledge should be a top priority, said Leslie Woolington, a risk management specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service and the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station.

“Whether you dig, drill, bore or blast into the ground as part of your job, you need to be aware of what’s underneath the ground before you begin any project,” Woolington said. “Unsafe digging can be costly. At the least, you could disrupt water, electricity and gas services. At the worst, you and others could die or be seriously injured.”

Additionally, unsafe digging is illegal. Those who damage utility lines can be fined and held financially responsible for repairs. By law, agricultural workers who need to dig deeper than 24 inches are required to contact Mississippi 811, a nonprofit organization that marks underground utility lines by request for free. The group takes requests from private citizens, businesses, excavators, builders and contractors.

In part of the Delta, farmers must be mindful of the underground natural gas pipeline owned by TransCanada. The company maintains a right-of-way on either side of the pipeline to ensure the safety of the public and their facilities.

Written permission required

Several activities, including driving across or digging in the rights-of-way, require written permission from TransCanada before landowners call Mississippi 811. However, agricultural crossing of a right-of-way is allowed without permission if it is done under normal operating conditions.

Agricultural vehicles driven into or across the rights-of-way must be used for typical farm activities, including plowing, disking and tending to animals. The equipment also must operate under the loaded axle weight and tire pressure limits approved by the manufacturer. Vehicles should never cross in a restricted area

John Linhoss, an Extension professor in the MSU Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, said any time producers need to dig or perform work that could disrupt underground utilities, they should follow the proper procedures.

“It pays to know where these lines could be on your property,” Linhoss said. “If you are planning to do any work that could disturb these lines, call Mississippi 811 to have the utilities marked or call TransCanada if you farm property around their rights-of-way. If you have employees that work around these lines, be sure they also know the proper protocols.”

For more information on submitting an underground utility location request, visit the Mississippi 811 website at https://www.ms811.org/. Find more information about restricted activities and required permissions from TransCanada on its website at https://bit.ly/2xzPkQb.

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