Design for Construction Safety – Existing Utilities appendix

The content below was written by Jim Anspach, P.G. (r), Dist.M.ASCE as the Existing Utilities appendix for a paper being developed by ACEC’s Risk Management Committee, “Design for Construction Safety: A Review of Risks and Challenges for Design Professionals”. The full paper will be posted on ACEC’s website in the near future.

Beware: Existing underground utilities create risks throughout the project development cycle. Although we would like these risks to be limited to cost and time, there are inevitable construction safety risks. The locations of utilities are uncertain, yet their presence and locations may affect how the project is designed. As such, Engineers or their survey subconsultants typically perform some amount of site investigations to minimize planning and design risk factors such as structural element placement, time and cost to relocate or tie into existing utilities, and/or protection in place strategies when conflicts remain.

Be Aware: Utilities shown on approved construction drawings or in answer to Requests for Information may be assumed by others to be for construction safety purposes rather than solely design purposes. Depicting or supplying utility information in any way may lead to the premise that a thorough investigation was performed and since utility information is depicted on stamped plans, without error or omission. Standard disclaimers that utilities are shown from records or other available information and are solely the safety responsibility of the contractor at time of construction do not always protect the engineer as much as they think. ASCE has a standard in place, ASCE 38 (Standard Guideline for the Collection and Depiction of Existing Subsurface Utilities) that was developed specifically to assist the engineer in mitigating their risks when performing utility investigations.

Be Wary: Engineers that use ASCE 38 as a means to investigate and depict utilities for design purposes should have a thorough understanding of the standard in order to use it correctly or they may incur unnecessary risk. Construction safety as it pertains to avoiding damage to existing utilities usually includes some active and/or passive participation of the Contractor, Designer, Project Owner, and Utility Owner (if known). Specific contractual language detailing the “who, what, where, when, why, and how” of utility investigations is prudent. EJCDC has developed a specific language for design-build projects regarding utilities.

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