Another new state agency in California is getting ready to regulate the whole “Dig Alert” process in the name of improving excavation safety and which will ultimately add another layer of bureaucracy for contractors to deal with.

Officially called the California Underground Facilities Safe Excavation Board (CUFSEB), the awkward acronym has supporters of the new agency using the term “Dig Safe Board”. Time will tell whether either phrase gains currency.

The new board and a bunch of new regulations on the underground utility business (or anybody else who is excavating) all stem from a 2016 bill (S.B. 661), authored by Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) at the urging of United Contractors and others in northern and central California.

UCON struggled to improve excavation safety since a 2004 blast in Walnut Creek that killed five, with bad pipeline marking as the cause. Since 2004 there have been three other fatal incidents involving excavations even after contractors contacted the 811 “Call Before You Dig” line. The 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline blast that killed eight and filled TV screens with images of burning homes. Oddly, this event had nothing to do with someone accidentally striking a buried utility but was caused by poor PG&E pipe replacement practices.

The intent of the legislation was to put an end to these disasters. The bill also created new rules to tighten procedures before excavations can begin, some of which are already in effect, including:

Effective January 1, 2017:

  • Contractors must delineate excavation sites and use pink markings if the delineation could be misinterpreted as traffic or pedestrian controls.
  • Excavators must contact Dig Alert at least two days before digging.
  • Excavations cannot begin until the excavator receives positive responses from all known members within the delineated boundaries.
  • If an excavation ticket expires while work is ongoing, the excavator must get a new ticket and wait two days before restarting the excavation.
  • Operators must mark abandoned installations with an “A” inside a circle.
  • Excavators must request re-marks of field marks that are no longer “reasonably” visible.
  • Before using power equipment, contractors must hand-expose 24 inches, to the point of no conflict, on either side of an underground facility to determine its exact location.

Effective November 1, 2017:

  • “Continual excavation” tickets available for one year for agricultural operations and flood control. These tickets cover excavations that are part of the employer’s normal business activities.

Effective January 1, 2018:

  • Dig Alert members may use electronic “positive responses” through regional notification centers before legal excavation start dates and times. Centers shall make those responses available to excavators.

The S.B. 661 gave a three-year time frame for the new board to get organized and start covering its mission of providing education and outreach to our industry, develop standards and investigate alleged violations of California’s excavation laws.

Another is to avoid conflict with the four other state agencies that already have some responsibility for safety around buried utility pipelines, including Cal/OSHA, Contractors State License Board, California Public Utilities Commission and the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

Tony Marino, a former consultant to Assemblyman Hill, has been appointed an executive director of the new board and has been busy hiring staff to fill the slots created by the law. The Governor has appointed seven members of the new controlling board, the State Senate one and the Assembly appointed one who has already resigned. These positions don’t require Senate confirmation and there is no compensation except for expenses to attend meetings.

Randy Charland, Ventura, No Party Preference, Senior Director of California for UtiliQuest, which provides utility damage prevention is the Senate’s appointee.

Governor Brown named the following in mid-December:

Jessica Arden, 35, Woodland Hills, a Democrat, city engineer for the City of Westlake Village since 2017 and was deputy city engineer from 2016 to 2017, serving in these positions

Vincent Bernacchi, 67, Davis, a Republican, president at Schetter Electric Inc. since 2006, where he has held several positions since 1976.

Ron Bianchini, 56, Knightsen, Republican, chief operations officer at Preston Pipelines Inc. since 2011, where he was area manager from 2009 to 2011. He has been in the construction industry since 1979.

Marjorie Del Toro, 51, Foothill Ranch, Republican, founder and president at EHS International Inc. an environmental, health and safety consultancy since 2010.

William Johns, 61, Huntington Beach, No Party Preference, vice president at Utility Coordinating Inc. since 2014, an engineer active in the construction industry since 1984.

Marshall Johnson, 60, Inglewood, Democrat, area manager of network process, quality compliance and damage prevention at AT&T since 2000 and was with Pac Bell since 1979.

Carl Voss, 59, Bakersfield, Republican, land manager at Grimmway Enterprises Inc. since 1995 and involved with Central Valley Ag interests since 1986.