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Field studies with innovative safe excavation technologies.

Bernold LE
NIOSH 2000 Aug; :1-15
The purpose of this project was to study the efficacy of innovative excavation technologies that promise to drastically reduce, or even eliminate, the many deaths and injuries that are common in excavation today. An economic impact study of underground utility damages accompanied the development and field-testing of three key technologies: (a) the equipment-mounted buried utility detection system (EMBUDS), (b) pipe- manipulator attachment (PMA), and (c) the site-integrated-backhoe-excavator (SIBE). The goal of the economic impact study was to address the question of "How Much should be spent on protection?" Surprisingly, a literature review found that little work has been done in assessing the total cost (referred to as economic impact cost) of accidental damages to utilities. However, the analysis of an actual incident showed that those costs are generally underreported because only emergency responses and repair are accounted for. Much larger than these direct costs are the consequential costs that arise from the secondary effects (of utility shutdown) on the public, business, and government. As a result, a comprehensive approach for assessing the total economic impact of such incidents was developed. Finally, a mathematical model, using marginal costs, was utilized to test an economical approach to finding an optimum amount of money that should be spent on protecting the underground infrastructure. It is believed that this method would provide an excellent means to develop a meaningful, and scientifically sound tool. However, it does require the availability of reliable data about economic impacts of accidents. The work on EM-BUDS progressed to the point where the system was field-tested on several sites. At a very congested location, a power line and a phone line were correctly detected without any prior knowledge of their situations. The results also proved to be repeatable through subsequent tests. In order to experiment with fully workable versions of the safe technologies under field conditions, the hard- and software of the first prototypes of PMA and SIBE were upgraded, ruggedized, and tested so as to ensure field-worthiness. Eventually, those two systems were integrated into one, the Pipe-Manipulator (PipeMan). At the end of September 1999, comparative field tests were conducted on a job-site at the East Park Industrial Subdivision in Raleigh, NC. A contractor was found who was willing to construct, on the same field, two equivalent pipeline sections, each with 9 concrete pipes ofa 36-inch diameter and 8 feet of length. One section was constructed using the traditional pipe-laying method the other section using PipeMan. The extensive amount of data revealed the following key facts: 1) The technology worked as designed, 2) the field personnel learned quickly to operate the technology, and 3) the total costs for excavation and pipe-placement of the two sections were found to be equivalent. After the successful field test, PipeMan was featured in the leading weekly magazine of the U.S. construction industry, the Engineering News-Record (ENR). Subsequently, it was selected as one of the 25 key news articles to receive ENR's Award of Excellence 2000.
Safety-equipment; Safety-practices; Safety-programs; Safety-research; Construction-equipment; Construction-workers; Construction
Publication Date
Document Type
Final Grant Report
Funding Amount
Funding Type
Fiscal Year
Identifying No.
NIOSH Division
Priority Area
Research Tools and Approaches: Control Technology and Personal Protective Equipment
Source Name
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Performing Organization
North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
Page last reviewed: September 2, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division