Can you dig it?


As the Covid-19 vaccination programme continues to build momentum in the UK, and things look like returning to some form of normality, the Government will be all too aware of the urgent need for an economic recovery. It will be weighing up where the strongest opportunities lie, and where the nation’s money would be best spent. The most likely scenario for this is making significant investment in large scale infrastructure.

Driving growth
In January, Rishi Sunak laid out the three key pillars of the Government’s plan to drive growth beyond the pandemic – investing in infrastructure, skills and innovation. Further to this, he stated that improved infrastructure leads to improved productivity, something increasingly important to UK businesses. When this is coupled with the £640 billion (over five years) that was set aside in the 2020 Spring Budget for the ‘Build Back Better’ campaign, the intention is clear.

The key focus for this infrastructure growth is increasing connectivity and levelling up opportunities for growth across the UK. The major public areas of investment are having superfast gigabit capable broadband provided to 85 per cent of the country by 2025 (currently at 33 per cent), road and rail links, and of course decarbonisation as part of the Net Zero objective.

HS2 is a fantastic example of this infrastructure spending. By creating a high-speed railway line that connects London, The Midlands and Scotland, the UK is looking to improve productivity outside the South East, attract businesses to cities with lower costs, and improve employability in these regions. It is seen as a win/win situation.

However, significant upgrades and enhanced maintenance will be necessary if the UK is to be able to meet the Government’s targets for economic growth and decarbonisation. In fact, for the UK to achieve its Net Zero objectives by 2050 the power system will need to be virtually carbon free by 2050 and significantly larger to cope with the additional demand from electrification in transport, heating and some industrial processes. This expanded system will require increased investments in network infrastructure, as well as upgraded onshore networks as the system decarbonises.

More digging
What does all of this mean? Simply put, more digging. With an increase in infrastructure projects, there comes a greater need to ensure the work is being undertaken in a safe manner. Whilst we all want to reap the benefits immediately it is important that we don’t hamper our future selves now by not thinking about the implications of a major upswing in activity.

With more projects set to take place than ever before, the chances of someone hitting an underground asset increase, especially as time pressures start to creep in and corners are cut. We can’t let this happen. Performing a quick and easy asset search before a digger bucket hits the ground must remain part of all organisation’s safe digging practices. This is not only good health and safety practice, eliminating unnecessary risk on site and keeping workers safe, but it also keeps projects on track.

For instance, future projects are often dependent on the previous one finishing on time. If you are delayed due to pipes or cables having been struck during excavation, someone else might pick up that contract you are after. Time really is money.

There are also financial consequences for construction companies to think about when an asset is struck. The pipes and cables will obviously need to be repaired, but beyond this there are indirect costs, such as traffic disruption and loss of custom to local businesses which must be factored into the final bill. According to research by the University of Birmingham, the true cost of an asset strike is 29 times the direct cost; so, for every £1,000 of direct repair cost arising from a utility strike, the actual cost is £29,000.

To sum up
There are certainly exciting times ahead for everyone involved in the construction sector, with plenty of opportunities up for grabs. This is why you want to avoid health and safety incidents, delays on site, loss of contracts, tenders being impacted, huge bills to pay or damage to your reputation. All of these factors are avoidable, so long as you take care when digging and understand your surroundings completely.

A quick and thorough asset search before digging commences must be your company policy for tasks large and small. No digger or spade should hit the ground before everyone, and I mean everyone, knows what’s there.

Richard Broome is MD at LSBUD, a free to use online search service that any individual can use to check their digging works against over 95 asset owners’ utility assets.

These assets include one million kilometres of underground and overhead pipelines and cables in the electricity, gas, high pressure fuel/oil, heating, water, and fibre optic networks. The service processes over three million enquiries per annum.

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