During a routine landscaping job in South Florida in 2013, two city workers were shocked when their shovels made contact with a power line as they were planting new trees outside a new visitor information center.

Both workers survived, but they told police they had no idea the power line was buried in the work area. They later admitted that they never called to have the area checked for live power lines.

Because of incidents like this across the country, April has been set aside as National Safe Digging Month to remind residents and contractors of the potential dangers of digging without first having areas properly marked for underground utilities.

As the weather in our region continues to become more ideal for outdoor projects, Gulf Power is emphasizing one of the company’s top priorities – safety – by providing important guidelines for safe digging.

Whether installing a mailbox, putting in a fence, building a deck or laying a patio – Florida law requires all excavators to contact operators of underground utilities before performing any excavation work.

“Before you dig, we urge people to remember three crucial numbers: 8-1-1,” said Rick DelaHaya, Gulf Power spokesperson. “Calling 811 is free, it’s safe and it’s the law.”

When calling 811, homeowners and contractors are connected to Sunshine 811. Sunshine 811 notifies the appropriate utility companies of the intent to dig. Professional locators are then sent to the requested dig site to mark the approximate locations of underground lines with flags, paint or both.

According to Common Ground Alliance, a national organization focused on protecting underground utilities across the country, every six minutes an underground utility line is damaged because someone decided to dig without first calling 811.

Striking a single line can cause injury, repair costs, fines and inconvenient outages. Every digging project, no matter how large or small, warrants a call to 811. Installing a mailbox, building a deck and planting a tree or garden are all examples of digging projects that should only begin a few days after a call to 811.

“Calling 811 to have underground utility lines marked is a simple – but vital – step that homeowners and professionals need to take to keep themselves and their communities safe and connected,” added DelaHaya.

The depth of utility lines can vary for a number of reasons, such as erosion, previous digging projects and uneven surfaces. Utility lines need to be properly marked because even when digging only a few inches, the risk of striking an underground utility line still exists.

If digging is in your plans, please STOP and take this vital step. Call Sunshine 811 at 811 at least two full working days before you plan to dig. Customers can also visit sunshine.com and click on Single Address Ticket to submit a request.

For more information, visit www.sunshine811.com/homeowner about digging safely.