OSHA withdraws underground utility location rule

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration retracted on Oct. 2 an interpretation that made hand digging an unacceptable means of locating underground utility installations.

In response to an inquiry about a specific project, OSHA ruled in July hand digging was not an acceptable method and advocated vacuum excavation as the only appropriate means of locating underground facilities.

OSHA will issue a new interpretation in coming months.

“OSHA was ill advised when it released this interpretation,” said George Kennedy, vice president of safety for the National Utility Contractors Association. “Hand digging is not only a commonly accepted industry practice, but many state laws and regulations mandate it.”

Kennedy said the retraction is a big win for the utility contracting industry because some excavation jobs were delayed or shut down due to the interpretation.

A NUCA member in Ohio was threatened with a work stoppage on a $50 million airport project if the company continued to hand dig to locate underground utilities. After learning about the situation, Kennedy sent OSHA a letter objecting to its interpretation.