Incidents of damage to buried utility lines during excavation work dropped by about 5% last year compared to 2012, according to the 2013 Damage Implementation Reporting Tool Report, released this month by the Common Ground Alliance. There were 335,000 excavation-damage incidents last year compared to 675,000 in 2004, estimates CGA's tenth annual DIRT Report.

In addition, while construction spending increased by 7.4% from 2012 to 2013, there were 15,000 fewer incidents. "Locate utilities requests" made via toll-free 811 calls, which are directed to local one-call centers representing all utilities, get some of the credit, says CGA.

Calling 811 to submit a locate utilities request to a local one-call center is the best way to reduce the chance of damages, says Bob Kipp, president of CGA, which promotes safe underground excavation practices. "If you make the phone call, 99% of the time, there is no damage," he adds.

The number of damage events in the U.S. and Canada submitted to DIRT in 2013 was 224,616, or 8,101 fewer events than reported in 2012. In 2013, there was no call made in a quarter of the 335,000 damage incidents.

Using data anonymously and voluntarily submitted by 38 one-call centers, DIRT's authors calculated a rate of 8.78 damages per 1,000 locate requests. DIRT was prepared by Jay Bowman and Paul Giovannoni of FMI Corp., and CGA's data reporting and evaluation committee.

There were 161 million opportunities from 811 calls to mark lines and only 335,000 damages. Kipp calls that "good," but not good enough.

In the report, he issues a call for improvement: "I challenge all stakeholders to examine their public awareness programs, any exemption to one-call laws and their enforcement mechanisms to determine if any of these need changes or improvements to help reduce 'no call' events, which in turn will reduce damages, injuries and fatalities."