Safety tips for natural gas contractors
As a contractor or excavator, you know better than anybody that gas, electric, and other utility lines can be just about anywhere. Help prevent accidents when you’re working around natural gas lines by playing it safe. Read the following natural gas safety tips to keep properties and clients safe from potential natural gas hazards.
- The most important thing to do before performing any type of digging is to call 811 at least two business days before you start digging—in fact, it’s the law!
- 811 locates must be under the name of the person doing the digging.
- An Avista representative will come to the site and mark the approximate location of the natural gas lines, hand digging is needed to find the exact location. This will prevent any unwelcome surprises on the day of digging.
If you dig into, nick a line, and/or suspect a gas leak, follow these steps:
- Evacuate everyone in the area and keep others away.
- From a safe distance, call 911 and then Avista on your cell phone at (800) 227-9187 from a safe location.
- Avoid using anything that might cause a spark including flashlights, light switches, telephones, tobacco, lighters, or matches.
- Never try to repair a damaged natural gas line yourself or restrict the gas flow in any manner, including bending the pipe. It's crucial that we inspect the line.
- Stay away from the area until emergency personnel indicates it's safe to return.
Colorless, odorless, and lighter than air, natural gas becomes combustible when mixed with air and exposed to an ignition source. A sulfur-like, rotten egg stench is added to natural gas to aid in prompt gas leak detection. Here are a few more signs, plus preventative steps to take.
Watch for these signs
- Blowing or hissing sounds
- Dust blowing from a hole in the ground
- Continuous bubbling in wet or flooded areas
- Dead or discolored vegetation in an otherwise green area
- Pilot lights that won't light but still emit gas
Ways to prevent gas leaks
- Secure your natural gas water heater to a wall to prevent it from falling over
- Store all flammable materials away from natural gas appliances
- Keep the area around the furnace and water heater clear
- Keep combustible materials away from gas appliances
- Instruct children to stay away from the gas range and all gas-burning appliances
- Keep ranges and ovens clean to avoid grease fires
- Never use the oven or range to heat a room
- Don't allow children to swing from gas pipes
One last important step
This handy chart will help you determine and keep track of what types of utility lines are on the property before you start a job, thereby preventing problems when you’re working. Private underground utilities require a specialist to locate by calling 811 and asking for a Private Locate Specialist.
|Utility line color coding
The color of the paint, stake or other marker indicates what's below:
|Temporary Survey Markings|
|Gas / Oil|
|Communications / Cable TV|
Know the length of time locates are valid—this varies by state. Locates are good for the following time:
- Washington: 45 days
- Idaho: 21 days
- Oregon: 45 days
If anyone digs after the listed times, they are digging with an invalid ticket.
There is a 2-foot tolerance zone on either side of the markings, but depths aren't guaranteed. Hand dig in this zone to expose and determine the exact location before you proceed with mechanical equipment.
- Support exposed gas pipelines with secure nylon straps, wood shoring, or ropes so they don’t break or rupture.
- Use sand or rock-free dirt as backfill.
- If you find gas or electric lines that haven't been marked, stop working and call us at the phone number on the bottom of your locate ticket.
Learn more about excavator safety near natural gas pipelines.
Do not build over gas lines. Never build any type of structure overtop buried utility lines or where it will block access to meters. Doing so runs a serious safety risk and prevents Avista from maintaining the infrastructure that serves customers.
Whether you work directly with the installation or cleaning of sewer lines, or indirectly in a related capacity, it’s important to be aware of potential hazards and how to respond if you encounter a gas line.
The presence of a gas pipe in a sewer line is called a “cross bore.” This can remain undetected for months or even years. When the sewer line becomes clogged and a blockage needs to be removed, that’s when this situation is typically discovered. Using a mechanical rotary device to root out the blockage can pull, nick, or break the gas pipe that has been bored through the sewer line, leading to a loss of service and a potentially hazardous leak.
- Call 811 to have utility companies locate and mark their lines, at least two business days before the planned work (it’s the law)
- Use a camera to determine if the sewer line is obstructed by a gas pipe, cable, or conduit
- Ask the resident or business owner if a natural gas line or other utility has recently been installed or upgraded on their property
Know the signs of a gas leak
- Bubbles rising through standing water or in the toilet bowl
- A strong “rotten egg” odor of natural gas at the cleanout or inside the building served by the sewer line
- Dirt blowing from a hole in the ground
- A hissing or whistling noise
- An area of dead vegetation
- Evacuate everyone immediately and leave the building's door open
- Avoid doing anything that can cause a spark, including using lighters, matches, cigarettes, flashlights, light switches, and telephones
- From a safe distance, call 911 and then Avista at (800) 227-9187 immediately
If you’re not sure if a gas line was damaged, rely on our free service for absolute certainty. Call us at (800) 227-9187.
General pipeline markers are no substitute for calling 811. Avista’s high-pressure transmission and major distribution pipelines for natural gas have above ground yellow markers along their routes, each displaying a 24-hour emergency response phone number. Please be aware that these yellow markers only indicate the general location of buried natural gas lines and actually may not be located above the pipelines. A lack of markers does not necessarily mean there are no underground pipelines. You are always required to have pipelines located and marked by calling 811 at least two business days before you dig.
Register at the National Pipeline Mapping System to obtain transmission pipeline maps by county and zip code, including the names of pipeline operators.