Dig Rite: No Shortcuts to Excavation Safety

November 15, 2017 • Previsor

If you live in Missouri, you’ve probably seen their ads or heard their jingle. In this episode, Derek Leffert of Missouri One Call (better known as Dig Rite) talks trench safety and protecting the people around you.

What’s the primary purpose of Missouri One Call?

Missouri One Call, or as it’s commonly known, Dig Rite, is a communication center that protects the underground utilities crossing the landscape throughout the state of Missouri. When folks are planning an excavation activity, whether it’s a homeowner planting a tree or a contractor digging a basement, they’re actually required by law to call us. We come out and mark all the utilities that are underground in that area, so they can avoid hitting the lines when they dig.

Why is it important to spread the “call before you dig” message?

Despite the effort we put into spreading our message through avenues like TV, radio and print, not everyone knows about the One Call system – and it’s a very important service that people need to know they can use to avoid hitting underground lines. We have to spread our message about safe excavation, because people can get hurt, or killed. Communities can suffer losses as a result of folks not doing what they’re supposed to do. So that’s the main reason we promote our message on such a grand scale.

Share more about some of those consequences of not calling before you dig. How can it affect people and communities?

Injuries can occur from ruptured gas lines, electric arcs – any type of situation like that. But also, there can be very significant financial implications if people dig without calling about utility lines first, as far as Missouri law is concerned. Obviously, the public safety piece is a big component of what can happen, but beyond that, there can also be financial loss.

Have you done work on your own property and used the service yourself?

Yeah, I have! As a matter of fact, I built a house a few years ago and used it frequently. That’s the worst thing I could do, to be out there preaching the message and then not do what I’m telling other people to do. I have used it, and with great success. And there’s evidence that says when a Dig Rite call is made, 99 percent of the time, a safe excavation results. That’s a pretty good statistic for us to use when promoting the service, and it’s why we do what we do: because we can prove that nationwide, 99 percent of folks who use a One Call service have a safe dig as a result.

Dig Rite holds meetings and safety trainings to not only help people practice safe digging, but also to remind them of the importance on a personal level. Tell us how you drive the message home by making it personal.

In our meetings, one of the things we’ve started asking people is, “How many of you have kids?” And almost everyone raises their hand. We ask, “Would you put your kid in this unsafe situation – in an unprotected trench, or on machinery around an unmarked gas line?” We ask them, any time they approach a job, to view it from that angle. If you wouldn’t put your kid in that situation, then you shouldn’t put yourself there. Because indirectly, they are putting their kid in that situation. If dad gets hurt, it has a huge impact on the children. We’ve really tried to drive that home.

What’s the most rewarding thing about working with Dig Rite?

The relationships. I’ve been there ten years, and the relationships I’ve developed are very genuine, fruitful and rewarding for me – particularly my relationship with the folks here at MEM.

It’s also knowing that the work we do is changing how people think about things, and how they approach jobs. I work with the Missouri Common Ground Alliance on the Damage Prevention and Excavation Safety Summit every year. That is an event that truly has a palpable impact on people, and you can see it on their faces. We do a big live trench rescue: we hire actors and actresses, fly in medical helicopters, and bring in ambulances, fire trucks and police departments – it’s a huge production. The reason we do that is to really hit home with these folks so that they understand what can happen if they don’t follow protocol. You can see them realize, “Wow, I can’t believe I’ve been doing things so wrong for so long; I need to change that mindset. I need to do what they’re asking me to do.”

The great thing about Dig Rite is that it’s a free service. No one pays a dime to use it. You know, it’s a free tool, and all we’re asking you to do is use it. And we’re just trying to keep you safe. So it’s very rewarding for me to see people’s change in habits and philosophy over the course of ten years. I’ve noticed it even more since we started doing the Damage Prevention Summit. It’s changing how people approach their jobs.

Dig Rite partners with MEM to do safety trainings around the state. What topics do you cover? Who attends?

We cover safe excavation practices. From the Dig Rite side, we can discuss digging-related laws and any recent changes that people need to be aware of, and then MEM provides additional training in trench safety, fleet safety, and similar topics.*

We have a very diverse group who attend the workshops. It’s business owners, their employees, utility personnel, government employees, folks from school districts and hospitals. If you look at the roster, it’s diverse because it applies very broadly to a lot of people. You wouldn’t think, for instance, that a college campus would have much of an interest in the One Call system. But they do, because they typically have underground lines all over their campus that they don’t want people to hit – whether it’s a fiber optic communications line, or a three-phase electric line. They have an interest in making sure the system works for everybody.

Can you share any particular moments that struck you during a training or the Damage Prevention Summit?

Last year, we wanted to really grab people’s attention at the Summit. It was probably a little bombastic, but what we did was very gripping: we created two lines into the Summit. One of the lines was a shortcut that led straight into the building, and the other line was the “safe way,” and you had to maneuver around obstacles and stand in a long line. And it was cold outside. You could either walk around the obstacles and wait, or you could just take that shortcut and walk right in. We set it up so that if people took the shortcut, the minute they walked in the building, they saw a casket. And there was a mirror in the casket.

There was a gentleman who brought his son with him to watch the nationally-renowned trench rescue production. They took the shortcut, and saw the casket. I think it was a very telling moment for the father, and a very monumental moment for the son. Our staff told us that the father turned to his son and said, “Son, you should not always follow my example. Because look what happened – I took the shortcut, and look where we are now.”

I think that’s something that child will carry with him his entire life, and after the fact, the father had a completely different perspective on his approach to work. And if those were the only two people that we touched with that event, then it was a success. Those personal changes, those things that profoundly impact the people who attend, that’s what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s hard to measure the ROI of our investments, both time and resources, because we’ll never know how many accidents we have prevented with our message. But I am confident that we are making a difference simply by hearing stories like that.

November 15, 2017
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