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First Utility District Named 2019 Top Workplace

First Utility District was named a Top Workplace on June 28th, 2019, marking our second year of receiving the top workplace award. Leea Butler (HR Coordinator, third from right) and Ronnie Davis (Assistant General Manager, fourth from right) accepted the Top Workplace award on behalf of our entire team as well as an additional award for being best workplace in the category of work/life flexibility. We want to say a tremendous thank you to our entire staff for making this possible.

The Race to 5G

Across Tennessee, telecommunications companies are in a race to be the earliest adopters of the newest generation of internet connectivity, known as 5G (or “fifth generation”). To bring this about as rapidly as possible, many of these companies are employing large numbers of boring contractors to contribute to the massive task of installing new infrastructure necessary for 5G—part of which includes performing excavation as fast as feasible to finish these installations before competitors.

This breakneck speed of excavation is causing some major problems statewide. How? Let’s dive into specifics.

One type of infrastructure needed for 5G is conduit for subterranean fiber optic cables. This conduit is installed through “directional boring,” a type of drilling that is hardly detectable from above ground and tends to be far less invasive than other methods, provided contractors follow protocol outlined in state law as well as industry best practices—which, in this case, is where the problems are occurring on a large scale. According to state law, utilities must be given time to mark the location of their utility lines before excavation work begins. Yet, many contractors are failing to abide by this state law. Without utility lines being marked, contractors are very likely to damage lines or bore right through them during their excavation work. State law clearly outlines the requirement for locating lines: “Utility companies, or owners, shall be contacted within established or customary local response times, advised of the proposed work, and asked to establish the location of the utility underground installations prior to the start of actual excavation” (Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA], 1970). In cases where contractors are  locating lines, they have at times ignored a crucial step, the industry best practice of potholing to confirm the location of those lines. Unfortunately, the high pressure, competitive atmosphere around 5G is creating the perfect storm for contractors to frequently disregard state law and industry best practices; First Utility District employs designated staff to locate utility lines for contractors and must be notified of work so our locators can advise contractors.

We make you aware of these developments to offer information related to the recent uptick in waterline breaks across Tennessee. Some of these happened despite proper protocol, but many are occurring because of a failure to comply with state law or abide by best practices. Regardless of the source, we apologize for the inconvenience these breaks cause you, and we will continue to keep you informed on this situation. Please know that, even though our field crews are not responsible for breaks caused by contractors, we work diligently to respond to the scene quickly and return your water service as soon as possible.  Thank you for your support.

Citation: Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (1970). Safety and Health Regulations Construction Excavations: underground installations (Standard No. 1926.651).