Excavation accidents that strike underground utilities cause havoc: broken natural gas lines threaten lives; severed cables darken cities; and cracked water lines flood streets. Yet nearly one-third of these incidents could be avoided by enlisting the services of a utility locator, according to a 2011 Common Ground Alliance study. Utility locators mark buried utilities for homeowners planting trees, engineers designing new roads, and building contractors. They work for utility and utility protection companies. If you like outdoor work, shun getting a college degree and welcome on-the-job training, a utility contractor career may be ideal.
The Michigan Infrastructure Transportation Association equates utility location to finding a needle in a haystack. As a utility locator, you rely on geographic information system, or G.I.S., maps, engineering drawings and special equipment to determine where buried utilities lie. After locating them, you mark the ground or pavement using flags, chalk or stakes. Your responsibilities don't end with the locale: you update the maps and database with diagrams, sketches and notes to maintain accurate records as well as monitor new construction activity to capture the location of any new underground installations. You may be called upon to inspect and assess damages after a digging incident.
Tools of the Trade
In addition to electronic and paper maps, utility locators use probing rods, shovels, metal detectors and measuring devices. You must know local and state regulations to work effectively. You may need to get certified according to the manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, or MUTCD, in some cities. Key certification related to this position also includes OSHA, or Occupational Safety and Health Administration, operator qualification targeted to anyone working around gas lines. With confined-space-entry OSHA training, you can work in manholes. Employers offer paid training for all these "tools." Most provide a company vehicle and require you to have a valid driver's license and safe driving record.
You must be a problem-solver, and be punctual, organized and self-motivated. Utility locators adjust to varied schedules that include weekends, long hours and working against the clock. You need stamina, and if you can't lift 100 pounds, start working out. Utility locators need an aptitude for math in order to calculate distances, using various software programs, and reading civil engineering drawings and maps. From report-writing to dealing with the general public, you will need good communication skills.
As existing water lines and other underground infrastructure become obsolete and get replaced, demand for utility locators remains strong. New urban developments and advancing technologies, such as fiber optics and broadband, which require accurate utility information, enhance the outlook for this career that offers health benefits, paid time off and pays a national average of $31,000 as of 2013, according to SimplyHired.com.
- Common Ground Alliance: CGA DIRT Analysis and Recommenadtions
- Damage Prevention Specialists: Employment
- City of Surprise: Job Descriptions; Utility Locator
- Safe Site Utility Field Services: Denver and Houston Employment Opportunities
- USIC: Work Life
- USIC: Frequently Asked Questions
- Simply Hired: Utility Locator Salaries
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