Preventing Third-Party Damage Must Begin During Installation

You Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated
June 2012 Vol. 239 No. 6
Buyer's Guide

When we think of preventing third-party damage we immediately think of calling 811, digging safely, locating accurately and keeping accurate up-to-date records and maps. While all of these are very important, preventing third-party damage must begin from the time we install our utilities in the ground.

At a time when preventing and reducing third-party damages is a main challenge for all utility companies, many are utilizing underground space for their distribution systems. Common (shared) trench installations are on the rise and we must do our part to ensure that we have taken every possible precaution to protect the safety of our employees and of the public.

How can we achieve this? It all begins with “proper installation methods.” Taking the time to ensure proper separation of utilities in a common trench and keeping proper separation of the tracer wire when installing polyethylene piping is definitely a great place to start.

Innovative Trench Solutions, Inc. of Rochester, NY has developed several cost-effective, products to help the utility industry achieve safer and more uniform underground installations while maintaining compliance with the revisions to 49 CFR Part 192.321. Included in this revision to the Code is the following regulation addressing the installation of plastic pipe mains and service lines:
Sec. 192.321 Installation of plastic pipe.
(e) Plastic pipe that is not encased must have an electrically conducting wire or other means of locating the pipe while it is underground. Tracer wire may not be wrapped around the pipe and contact with the pipe must be minimized.

The TracerSpacer. The Tracer Spacer was invented by two employees of NYSEG who eventually formed Innovative Trench Solutions, Inc. The device is designed to provide a consistent separation between polyethylene piping and tracer wire in natural gas installations. Proper spacing between the plastic gas pipe and the tracer wire has long been an industry safety concern. If there is no separation between the pipe and the tracer wire and the wire should become accidentally energized by a lightning strike or by any other stray voltage it will melt through the polyethylene gas pipe causing a dangerous leak. This could result in the loss of life or property, not to mention the very costly task of repairing or replacing the gas main or service.

The TracerSpacer is actually a dual-purpose product. It ensures the tracer wire remain a safe distance from the gas pipe as to not allow contact, yet it holds it close enough to increase the accuracy of your underground locates. This is a great benefit in the prevention of third-party damages by reducing your company/contractor mis-marks.

One Texas utility states “By using the TracerSpacer we will always be in compliance with our O&M procedures no matter if the job is done by a contractor or our company employees. The use has been met with great approval by state regulators.”

Having peace of mind that -- when the construction crews backfill -- the tracer wire will not be displaced to the opposite side of the trench, will easily allow you to record on your as-built maps that the tracer wire is four inches to the house side or four inches to the road side of the gas pipe being installed. This can only be a positive tool to help improve the accuracy for the many people who locate underground facilities each day.