Horizontal Directional Drilling Hazards

New Jersey Construction Accident Lawyers weigh in on the hazards of horizontal directional drilling. When workers install underground utility lines, they often use a technique known as “horizontal directional drilling,” or HDD.  A number of dangers are associated with HDD, including the risk of electrocution from hitting an underground electrical wire, and the risk of an explosion if a natural gas line is pierced.

Tragically, in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2013 an HDD operator was installing an underground cable when they pierced a natural gas line.  This resulted in an explosion and fire that severely burned three crew members.  A restaurant was destroyed by the explosion, as well as several other buildings.  A number of bystanders were injured, and an employee who was working at the restaurant at the time of the explosion was killed.

What is Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD)?

HDD is what is known as a trenchless technology.  Crew members drill underground horizontally to install cables, wire, and pipes, using equipment that is launched from the surface.

It is commonly used in places where there is not a lot of space to dig a trench (such as in an inner city) or where it would be too dangerous to dig vertically (for example, if a pipe needs to be placed under a lake).  Because the surface launched technology makes it harder for workers to see what is in the drill’s path, it can be dangerous.

One of the risks inherent to HDD is the risk of explosion.  When a construction worker’s drill hits a natural gas line and gas leaks out, it can get trapped in a building or pit.  If there is static electricity in the area, or sparks flying from machinery, the gas can ignite and explode.  Cast away cigarette butts can also ignite these gas pits or vaults.

If you are operating HDD equipment, your employer should ensure that you are trained to identify natural gas leaks.  One way to detect a leak is to use a handheld natural gas detector.  You might also notice dust blowing into the air where there is no wind present, or hear a hissing sound.  You might notice an odor if the gas has been odorized (natural gas has no smell, sometimes an odor is added to the gas to assist people in detecting leaks.)  However, this is not always the case.

Tips to Stay Safe

To avoid making contact with electric or gas lines and prevent a construction accident:

  • Visually inspect where you will be digging. Whenever possible, dig small test holes from the surface (a technique known in the industry as potholing).
  • Contact utility companies to determine if they have lines in the area.
  • Look for surface markings denoting gas or power lines.
  • Call 811 before you dig. This specialized hotline exists to help people ensure that they are not going to strike any dangerous utility lines.

New Jersey Construction Accident Lawyers at Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow, LLP are Dedicated to Protecting American Workers

If you have been injured in a construction accident, we can help you pursue and obtain compensation.  With offices located in Edison, Red Bank and Toms River, the reputable New Jersey construction accident lawyers at Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow, LLP represent clients throughout New Jersey.  Call us today at 732-777-0100 or contact us online to schedule your free consultation.