A big bang, but who’s at fault?

In the ever-growing catalogue of excavation accidents this was a biggie: one dead, six injured and, most spectacularly, one home totally destroyed, 20 left uninhabitable and another 34 damaged, according to {cslimited}press reports{/cslimited}

It was gas of course, leaking from a pipe accidentally punctured by workers digging to repair an electricity cable. At the time of the explosion workers from the gas utility were working to repair the leak. It all happened in the township of Ewing, New Jersey on 4 March this year.

So who’s at fault: the electricity workers for not making sure they knew where other buried infrastructure lay or (for the deaths and injuries if nothing else) the gas workers for not immediately ordering an evacuation of the area? Or perhaps it was the gas company for not providing accurate and up to date information on the location of its pipes?

The twist here is that the gas and electricity companies were one and the same: the publicly listed Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSE&G). And one organisation at least is keen to try and lay the blame at the company’s door.

Within a day of the accident New Jersey law firm Stark & Stark had posted an article on the web site of the Personal Injury Law Journal, explaining just how the system to prevent these accidents works in New Jersey. There the system puts much more responsibility on the infrastructure owners than merely providing infrastructure location information to dial-before-you-dig services.

“New Jersey’s legislature has enacted laws that require all operators of underground facilities to participate in a One-Call Damage Prevention System and to require all excavators to notify the One-Call Damage Prevention System prior to excavation or demolition (see New Jersey Statute 48:2-74),” it explained.

“Pursuant to New Jersey law anytime any person or company intends on digging or working in the vicinity of buried, underground utilities, they must first contact New Jersey One Call System and notify that company of the location and scope of their intended work. It is then incumbent on New Jersey One-Call to notify all companies that may have buried utilities in the location of the proposed work site so that those companies may visit the site and perform a mark out of their underground lines.”

The underground infrastructure owners then report back to New Jersey One-Call that the site has been marked out. New Jersey One-Call then notifies the excavator enabling it to start work.

Stark & Stark goes on to explain: “Unfortunately, often times due to human error, utilities are not properly located or identified and when digging begins damage is done to a utility.”

So, for the benefit of the injured, the relatives of the deceased and the owners of those 54 damaged properties, the law firm says: “At Stark & Stark, we have experience handling cases against PSE&G and other utility companies for our clients who have been injured or killed due to the utility company’s failure to perform its legal duty.”

PSE&G made a non-committal statement on the incident, but oddly enough you won’t find it in the list of press releases on the company’s web site, only by doing a search. However the day after the accident PSE&G issued a press release offering “Seven Spring Safety Tips.”

It explained: “Spring is in the air, and along with it comes the urge to clean, organise and spruce up your yard after a long, hard winter. PSE&G wants to ensure that you do so safely and that your equipment is in good working order.”

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