CSLB Warns Contractors to Dial Before You Dig

by Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean LLP

The California Contractors State License Board (“CSLB”) is warning contractors that it’s stepping up its CSLB logoenforcement activities against contractors who excavate without permits. Under the law, contractors are required to call 8-1-1 at least two days before any digging or excavation activity (even if it’s just breaking the ground, points out the CSLB) to avoid damaging utilities:

CSLB Now Processing a Pipeline of Cases Resulting From Unauthorized Digs

Licensed contractors who damage natural gas pipelines during unauthorized digs in Northern California can expect much closer scrutiny from CSLB.

With pipeline breaks in the state on the upswing — despite repeated warnings from utility companies about the need for excavation permits — Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is now lodging complaints with CSLB, alleging natural gas line damage by contractors, and seeking disciplinary action against the license.

Ten complaints are pending against licensed contractors whom PG&E claims did not go through the permit process to note the underground location of utility pipelines in the area, and struck a gas pipeline during the dig.

In 2012, there were 1,754 reported incidents of damage to utility lines in the state. An estimated 60 percent of those pipeline breaches were committed by contractors, and the majority of the line breaks came during unauthorized digs, according to PG&E statistics.

Although CSLB has had the legal authority to take action against licensees for negligent pipeline breaks (Business and Professions (B&P) Code 7110), there have been only 13 incidents in the state brought to the board in the last two years. Penalties imposed by CSLB can range from a warning letter to license revocation in the most serious cases.

Those who fail to register with one of the notification centers in the state, Underground Service Alert of Northern California (USA North) or Underground Service Alert of Southern California (DigAlert), also are subject to a fine of up to $50,000, and can be held responsible for any repair costs. Leaking natural gas from a punctured line can explode, while those who strike an electrical line are at risk of electrocution. Damaging conduits that carry fiber optic or telephone cables can disrupt services to the community that result in costly repairs.

Even with potentially stiff penalties, and public awareness campaigns about the need to obtain permits, too many contractors are still taking part in unauthorized excavations, PG&E says.

Damage done during excavations was the subject of a recent state Senate committee hearing. A CSLB representative participated in discussions with lawmakers and officials from the state’s utility industry about the scope of the problem and ways to reduce pipe strike incidents.

According to testimony from a PG&E executive, California has posted a particularly poor record compared with the rest of the nation when it comes to seeking proper authorization before a dig. California’s no-call rate is two to three times higher than the national average, he said.

CSLB stresses the need to notify Underground Service Alert centers before any dig as part of its testing process for individuals seeking a contractor license to perform soil work.

Don’t Dig Yourself Into a Disaster, Get a Permit

811Any digging or excavation effort, even if it’s just breaking ground with a shovel, requires licensed contractors to call 8-1-1 and coordinate at least two days beforehand with either the Underground Service Alert of Northern California (known as USA North) or Underground Service Alert of Southern California (aka DigAlert).

Here is the notification checklist from the centers serving the state:

  • Make the 8-1-1 call at least two working days, but not more than 14 days, before your project. You are not allowed to dig during that time. Notification is required regardless of whether the project is taking place on public, private or commercial property.
  • You will be given a ticket number that references your dig information. Each contractor must have his or her own number. Sharing of a ticket between contractors on a single job is not allowed. Tickets are valid for up to 28 days after they’re issued.
  • Once the call is made, accurately outline your excavation area. Utility company representatives will visit within two working days either to mark or stake the horizontal path of their underground facilities, provide information about the location, or advise that there are no lines in conflict with your project.
  • If you accidentally strike a line, you must notify the affected utility, even if there is no visible damage; internal harm may have occurred that can lead to future problems.

USA North (www.usanorth.org) covers Northern and Central California. DigAlert, in Southern California, can be contacted at www.digalert.org.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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