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Municipal Fiber Network Construction and Designing for Safety: Part Two

Job site safety starts not when the first shovel hits the ground but prior during the design phase.

Many of us think that job site safety encompasses laborers in the field, the equipment/vehicles, public property, and community members—but it starts before the construction plan begins. As we discussed in last week’s article (Designing Safety into your Municipal Fiber Projects: Part One), six essential topics should be discussed during the design plan for your network project:

  1. 1. Establishing a Safety Culture
  2. 2. All Field Work is Dangerous
  3. 3. Communicating Effectively
  4. 4. Identifying Existing Utilities
  5. 5. Finding the Right Materials and Location
  6. 6. Closing out a Project

This week we will discuss communication and how to deal with existing utilities.

Learn more about the first two topics by clicking here, and check back next week to conclude our remaining topics.


3. Communicating Effectively

Making sure the community stakeholders know your plans can be critical in the success of your project.

Imagine that you have planned your network for years, the budget is approved, and the contractor has agreed to your aggressive project timeline. The project starts out well, but after a few weeks, the directional drilling crews slow down to almost a stand still. Drilling crews can only continue production as long as the public utility locators are able to keep up with the workload. This can result in crews having to demobilize to other jobs as they wait for those locates to pick back up, ultimately setting the project schedule behind.

This locate problem is a real risk and can be mitigated by keeping the community and your community partners informed. Give them an opportunity to be successful! An influx in utility locates and permitting creates additional workloads on third party resources. The additional workload may be justification for them to hire additional resources, but if they were never aware of your project in advance, it is difficult for them to support your project.

Check in with other internal public works related departments, as well as surrounding right of way jurisdictions. Not only are you looking for any dig once opportunities and sharing cost of construction, but you are also making sure there are no conflicts with your proposed plans with other projects including road widening and utility relocation projects.

It is essential to make sure that everyone on your team has been properly trained to communicate with the general public. People want to know what is going on in their community, especially in residential neighborhoods. Having a communication plan in place with documentation on what to say, which team members will be designated as the spokespersons, and when to escalate is critical in project planning, execution, and yes safety. Digging in yards and accessing rear easements can be very sensitive and potentially dangerous situations. Providing door hangers with contact information, signage describing the upcoming work, and having company ID’s and shirts can also go a long way in quelling the concerns of the general public.

Lastly, make sure you are regularly asking for feedback during the construction phases from the crews. Some of the greatest resources of knowledge about your network are the construction crews building it for you. Communicate with them regularly, what is working, what are the bigger challenges they are facing on the project, etc. These interactions can provide priceless information on lessons learned, saving you significant money and minimizing risk on future phases.

4. Identifying Existing Utilities: Do your Homework

One of the biggest risks with any large fiber deployment is navigating conflict with existing utilities, especially in the underground environment. Taking as much guess work out of where they are located during the design phase will minimize conflicts and design changes during construction.

Calling in design tickets and reaching out to all encountered utility owners is important to get mapping, and markups from existing utility owners. This is often the first contact in coordinating your work with other utilities and can help identify conflicts with other projects as well. Compiling all utility GIS records from other departments, collecting 5–10-year roadway plans, and collecting field notes with GIS based equipment can also help ensure the accuracy and optimization of your plans.

Establishing policies on soft digging and verification of existing utilities is also a critical decision and will significantly impact the timeline and cost of your project. These policies need to be carefully balanced to create a procedure that fits in your budget, local and state policies, and can go a long way in minimizing costly repairs and rework.

Come back next week to learn about choosing the right material in the right location and project closeout when discussing safety on your next Network Construction Project.