Smarter Power > Safety First

Safe digging

Phone 0800 248 148 in an emergency.

Hitting underground services like electricity cables, gas or fuel pipelines, water pipes, or exposed fibre optic cables can cause electrical flashovers, explosions, fires, and other hazards.

These can result in serious injuries or even death, and you could be held liable for any loss or damage caused.

Whenever you’re digging, no matter how big or small the job, you need to follow safe digging practices:


Request free underground cable plans (reference maps) via beforeUdig at least two full working days before your planned excavation.

They'll show the approximate location of underground utility services, which you'll receive separately from each asset owner (utility) – although not all asset owners are beforeUdig members.

  • In most cases, plans will be automatically emailed to you straight away, but we might need to contact you first in some cases.


Never rely on plans alone! They are indicative, not to scale and provided for reference purposes only – locations and dimensions shown are approximate, and not all assets are shown.

Use reference maps as a guide for locating and marking out all cables and pipes within your worksite.

Do not use Waratahs or other stakes for marking out proposed works, as these can be deadly if driven through underground cables.


There may be overhead lines, unmapped electricity assets, and electrical or other services owned by other parties (including your own service cable) that aren’t shown on plans.


Look for above-ground clues for buried assets (for example, sealed trenches, manhole covers and pit lids, pillars/plinths, poles/lampposts, marker posts, gas meters, and utility cabinets).


Carefully hand dig inspection holes (potholes), using use a non-conductive shovel if possible. Where you should dig is illustrated on page 13 of our we* all need to work safely booklet.

Hand digging must continue until all the underground services have been found. If you can’t find a cable, have found one where you didn’t expect it, or if you need a cable to be isolated, phone us on 0800 248 288.

If power tools are needed to break through paving, these should not be used within 500mm of the indicated line of a cable. Hand excavation with extreme care is required after the first 150mm of surface layer is removed.

✅ What to do while excavating

  • Keep copies of the reference maps on site, which are only valid for 14 days from date of issue and may not be representative of any works that have recently occurred.
  • Do not touch or step on any cables, ducts, or pipes. It might damage them and metal pipes could be carrying stray current. Note that not all cables are housed inside ducts, and some ducts may contain unexpected services.
  • Protect any cables in the excavation using nail-free wooden planks, cover plates, sandbags, or other suitable means.
  • Contact us if digging beneath paper-insulated lead-covered (PILC) cables, as a temporary support may be required.
Once the excavations are complete, ensure no damage has occurred to underground services then carefully backfill excavations. Any fill containing items likely to damage cables, such as large pieces of rock and hard-core or other sharp objects, should not be used.


⚠️ Remember

You have a legal duty of care to establish the location of any underground electricity assets before commencing excavation, and of the need for all parties to comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and other relevant legislation.

If you don’t, you could be electrocuted or experience life-altering injuries such as severe burns.

You might be held liable for any damage caused, along with any indirect losses incurred from power outages which impact our communities. WorkSafe may also impose fines or initiate criminal proceedings.


Frequently Asked Questions

In an emergency

If you hit an electricity cable or overhead line:

  • Treat the cable or line as live and get back at least 10 metres.
  • Evacuate the immediate area but keep watch of the site to make sure nobody goes near.
  • If you’re in a machine, stay in it.
  • If you must leave the machine because of fire or other danger, jump clear so that you do not touch the machine and the ground at the same time. Land with your feet together, and shuffle away keeping both feet on the ground, close together.
  • DO NOT attempt to cover or fix a damaged cable.
  • Phone us straight away on 0800 248 148. Call 111 if someone’s in immediate danger.
  • Make sure you complete your own incident report and provide us with any requested information.

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