UniSource Energy Services is joining a nationwide campaign in April to spread awareness about how to avoid injury and damage when digging around underground utilities.

Arizona 811, formerly Arizona Blue Stake, is an organization made up of utilities statewide that works to educate the public about how to protect underground facilities.

By dialing 811 from anywhere in the United States, homeowners and contractors can request the precise location of buried utility lines in the area. Without knowing what’s underground, digging or excavating could damage lines and result in serious injuries.

Richard Navarro, UES’ Operations Support Coordinator, is an Arizona 811 board member and part of the effort to protect utilities and keep people safe.

“This started out as Arizona Blue Stake more than 40 years ago,” he said. “Initially, some of the larger facilities and companies in the state needed to mitigate damage, and from there it’s grown. A majority of the utility companies and municipalities are part of the effort.”

Arizona law requires anyone who plans to dig for any reason to contact Arizona 811 at least two full working days in advance to have all underground utilities in the area located and marked. Utilities can charge customers who damage an unmarked line for repairs and down time, and the Arizona Corporation Commission can levy a civil penalty of up to $5,000 per violation for damage to utility equipment.

Anyone who digs without first calling 811 for a location request has no sense of what they might encounter underground, so taking that simple step to pick up the phone is crucial, Navarro said. Contacting 811 before you dig will increase your chances of a damage-free excavation by 99 percent.

“Any time you damage a gas or a power line, you run the risk of injury to the person doing the excavation and people nearby,” he said. “If you knock out power or a fiber optic line, you can create quite a bit of havoc.”

The Arizona 811 group has seen instances of utility damage and injury drop over the years as a result of the public awareness campaign.

“Most of the damage is minor — nicking the coating on a pipe — for example, but we did experience some line punctures and severs. Calling is the simplest, most effective way to prevent serious injuries and damage.”

April is National Safe Digging Month. Arizona 811 spreads the message with billboards and advertisements on radio stations and in newspapers. Each UES customer receives a bill insert with the pertinent information.

“Each year, Arizona 811 and representatives from several utilities — including electricity, telephone, gas and petroleum companies — conduct damage prevention and safety seminars for excavators and contractors,” Navarro said. “It’s well worth it to educate the public about safe digging.”