BY JOHN JACOBI

According to 49 USC §60101 (23)(part of the Federal Pipeline Safety Statutes), “risk management” means the systematic application, by the owner or operator of a pipeline facility, of management policies, procedures, finite resources, and practices to the tasks of identifying, analyzing, assessing, reducing, and controlling risk in order to protect employees, the general public, the environment, and pipeline facilities.  This is, in my view, a good, solid definition and, if you substitute “underground utility” for “pipeline facility,” covers a LOT of ground (no pun intended).

Two of the key words are “systematic approach.”  Risk management (another term for safety) does not happen all by itself.  Sure, some people always seem to have their act together and never seem to make a mistake or- if they do make a mistake – it is very seldom a bad mistake and they always seem to recover quickly.  You are indeed fortunate if you are one of those people.  Mere mortals – like me – have to pay attention ALL the time or things can get things can get really interesting really quickly.  That is where a systematic approach comes in.

A lot of human activity is, by its very nature, hazardous.  An obvious example is driving a car.  But every adult drives a car and everyone is a good driver.  Not exactly.  Most people that drive cars are indeed good drivers – most of the time.  However, with so many cars on the road it only takes a split second of distraction and bad things can happen.  YOU can be paying attention and SOMEBODY ELSE makes a mistake and both of you may pay dearly for it.  It doesn’t even have to be SOMEBOBY ELSE’s fault, it could have been a mechanical failure or a third party that started the sequence.  If YOU are paying attention and practice what pilots call “situational awareness” you may be able to anticipate possible problems and be ready for the unexpected.  That situational awareness may give YOU the split second that may save YOUR life and the lives of others.

One of my favorite quotations is “We have met the enemy and he is us.” (Pogo, a cartoon character by Walt Kelly).  Part of the human mentality is that “It will never happen to me!!”  That is one of the reasons we are our own worst enemies.  For underground utilities (including pipelines), situational awareness means many things.  First and foremost, CALL BEFORE YOU DIG!!  Second, pay attention while you are digging!!  Not all marks are accurate and not every underground utility is marked.  Just because you found whatever was marked does not mean that there may not be something else in the hole that can hurt you or someone you or someone else may love.

If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it very well may be a duck!!  If you aren’t sure, you might want to check with someone that knows about ducks!!