The UK is set for a ‘digging boom’ this year, according to Digging up Britain 2021. The annual safe digging report by LSBUD (LineSearch Before yoU Dig) reveals that companies and the public used lockdown to plan for almost one million projects, including house and road building, extensions, broadband installation and road maintenance. These are getting started as the various restrictions lift, swelling the estimated four million excavation projects which routinely take place each year.
This huge level of digging will leave the water sector incredibly vulnerable to asset strikes as, according to the report, just 15% of water companies share their asset information via the LSBUD portal. This means as much as 350,000 kilometres of network are currently unprotected.
This is significant considering that 80% of gas companies and 70% of electricity providers share their network data and according to the report, 77% of all digging work that takes place in the UK is now preceded by a thorough search for pipes and cables through the LSBUD portal. Over three million search enquiries were made for excavation projects on the collaborative portal in 2020, a record- breaking figure.
Richard Broome, Managing Director at LSBUD, commented: “It is wonderful to see the number of searches passing through the LSBUD portal increasing year on year. It shows that our safe digging education is getting through, and allows the UK’s underground networks and its people to be better protected than ever. Unfortunately, this is not the case for some water networks which continue to miss out on being part of this safe digging movement.
For a sector that’s under pressure from Ofwat to reduce leakages by 17% and with leakage from third party damage now being classified as the asset owner’s responsibility, that seems a needless risk. Our data shows that in 2021 and beyond there is going to be a ‘digging boom’, there were 904,120 searches relating to future projects! If people do not know where water pipes are, how are they going to avoid them? I firmly believe that this is going to be a major issue for water companies moving forward.”
However, the water industry is aware of the need to perform asset searches, because according to the report, it is the second most active sector when it comes to using the portal to search for underground assets prior to commencing its own digging work. The industry and its contractors accounted for 825,322 requests, a 39% increase on the previous year. This made-up 27% of the total searches performed in 2020, and was second only to the telecoms sector in terms of the volumes of searches completed.
Digging Up Britain 2021 also explores the reason excavation work is taking place. Similar to previous years, utility works top the list with more than 2.23 million searches, a 3% jump on 2020. This is perhaps unsurprising given that the telecoms and water sectors were responsible for the most searches. Agricultural projects grew, rising by 63% across the 12 months, with searches by private individuals jumping by 34%.
This suggests that the awareness of safe digging practices is growing not just among core construction and contractor communities but also amongst the wider general public.
Richard Broome concluded: “We are continuing to drive home the importance of safe digging, and we have now reached a stage where performing a search before digging is second nature to the majority. In fact, a search passes through our service every 3 seconds during the average working day, which is more often that we blink – so, clearly the message is truly getting through. A digging boom is heading our way. With more projects commencing and more site activity set to take place over the coming months, there is a critical need for all parties to know what is beneath the ground. This is why we want the water industry to get on board and make their infrastructure information available on a collaborative portal. After all, it is only by collaborating with the other utility companies to give all those digging a full picture of what lies beneath the ground, that needless strikes will be minimised and accidents avoided. Those that do will be better able to protect their assets from third party damage, minimise needless leaks, manage risk and resources, and address the challenges of PR19.”