6 steps to avoiding utility work explosions like the one that rocked New York City

Updated Apr 1, 2015
Credit: FDNY via TwitterCredit: FDNY via Twitter

The building explosion in New York’s East Village last week that killed two people and injured nearly two dozen others is a stark reminder that working around utilities is dangerous, unpredictable and requires for extra steps to be taken to ensure the safety of not only you and your crew, but everyone in the area.

Even though your employer will have called 811 in preparation for the job, excavate with care. If the flags or stakes marking the pipeline have been moved or destroyed, you could be working around a line without even knowing it.

Here are some tips to help keep you safe when working around gas lines:


1. Find marked lines.

You (and your fellow employees) should walk the site prior to beginning work to ensure you see and remember the location of all pipeline markers.

2. Use a spotter to aid you in avoiding lines.

It’s best to maintain a minimum safe distance from marked lines, but if you will not be able to maintain clearance, alert the utility to the situation and use a spotter to guide you when working near lines. Establish a clear stop signal the spotter can use if contact with a line appears likely.

3. Don’t assume the lines are in good condition.

Although most lines are safe to work around, a variety of events can damage pipelines, including corrosion or previous excavation at the site.

4. Stay alert for signs of a gas leak.

While most people would recognize the smell of a gas leak, which is similar to rotten eggs, right away, there are other indicators. Listen for a hissing or roaring sound, and keep a sharp eye on the ground where you’re working. A gas leak can not only burn from the ground, but also blow dirt into the air, or cause standing water to bubble. Unexplained dead grass or discolored vegetation near a line is another indicator you have a serious situation on your hands.

5. Even minimal contact matters.

If you contact a pipeline while working, stop work right away. Even a small scrape could cause serious problems in the future.

6. Take action immediately.

Don’t waste time trying to figure out if you’re correct about the leak. Get out of the area and warn others away, as well. If you’re working inside a structure, keep the doors open when you leave. Avoid touching any light switches and, of course, no smoking! Call 911 and apprise them of the situation.