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Lise Taylor

UK & Europe

Lise is a client director at Atkins, linking into the water, environment, transportation and airports markets. She is a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, a fellow of the Association for Project Management and a member of the International Women's Forum.

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Utility disruption is a perpetual risk whenever projects require digging to take place. Often also referred to as utility strikes, for anyone that’s experienced them – from all perspectives – it can be a disheartening experience. End users know only too well that the roadwork signs they encounter can lead to delays, diversions and disruption. Whereas from a project management perspective, underground utility strikes can lead to major delays (on projects), injuries, and even loss of life; they’re not something any organisation can afford to take lightly.

So the question is, do we know everything that’s under the ground before we start digging? And if we do know, do the people on the ground have the right tools and behaviours to make sure not a single utility is hit?

London roadworks
It’s not just the project disruption that’s a concern with utility strikes. From 2012, for example, a levy of up to £2,500 a day on utility firms who dig up busy roads during peak times in London has come into effect.
(picture: Canary Wharf on November 29, 2014 in London).

Atkins recently brought together experts from Heathrow Airports Ltd, the Environment Agency, Thames Water and Highways England at a roundtable to discuss how to avoid these kinds of strikes. The participants provided some great examples of work they’re doing to avoid strikes, and I thought I’d share some of their helpful tips with you:

1. Put the power in their hands

Give the guys on the ground leadership roles in looking at how to avoid strikes. Listen and act on their issues and ideas. They are the ones in the hot seat, and can make a big difference.

2. Don’t throw technical solutions at people problems

Most service strikes tend to be caused by behavioural rather than technical issues. Behaviours are harder to change, but that’s where we need to focus our efforts.

3. Make sure drawings are updated

Tie permits to drawing updates – if a service has been found, then don’t issue a permit to work until the drawing has been updated.

4. Measure misses, not just strikes

Keep track of the services you miss, as well as the ones you hit. It’s a good way of showing your investment to avoiding strikes is making a difference.

5. Make training practical

Train your people in the field, use role play and use real examples of service strikes.

6. Create a zero tolerance culture

Don’t let people think it’s ‘normal’ to hit a couple of minor services when they’re digging. The only acceptable number of strikes is zero.

7. Give teams the information they need

It’s not just important to have the right level of advance information and surveys, but also to present it in a way that is easy to understand. Using tablets on-site can enable teams to switch off layers of information so they can ‘see’ the services clearly.

There were a lot of other good ideas shared at the roundtable, and it really highlighted for me how important it is to share knowledge and best practice across engineering sectors.

If you have any other tips for avoiding service strikes, please share them in the comments below.


Atkins has a dedicated offering to assist with utility management, utility mapping, wayleave searches and other associated services. For more information, please visit: www.utilitymanagementsolutions.co.uk

UK & Europe,