Hand DiggingDig Safely Home< BackNext >


Check utility depth for yourself.
Before you can work safely near an underground utility, you must first verify its location. Flags and locator marks tell you the direction the utility is running, but not how deeply it is buried. The only way to be sure of utility depth is to carefully hand dig to expose the line and see it with your own eyes.

Proper hand-digging tools and techniques protect you and prevent utility line damage:

  • Use a blunt-nosed shovel to loosen the soil, and a regular shovel to remove it. Do not use a pickax or any sharp or pointed digging tools. Do not stab at the soil or stomp on the shovel with both feet.
  • Work with a gentle prying action and dig at an angle, so the shovel will slide along the surface of the wire, conduit, or pipe. Or, dig to the depth where you expect the utility line to be, but off to the side. Then use a prying motion to break away soil as you approach the utility laterally.
  • Be sure to dig until you find the actual utility line, not just tracer wire or warning tape.

Notify 811 if you cannot find a marked utility line.
Locate marks may not be accurate. If you cannot visually verify the indicated line within the tolerance zone, stop work and call 811.


Before excavating near buried utility lines, always hand dig to verify their location.