OUPS on Speed Dial

How much do you know about the legal requirements for the protection of underground utilities on a construction project in Ohio? Unfortunately for many people in the construction industry, their knowledge of this important subject does not go beyond the toll-free number for the Ohio Utilities Protection Service (OUPS).

What is OUPS?

OUPS is not a utility marking service; but it is many other things. OUPS is a clearinghouse of information, a consortium of utility owners organized under R.C. § 153.64(A)(4) as an “underground utility protection service” and registered with the Secretary of State and Public Utilities Commission. OUPS takes requests from contractors and project owners for utility locations and relays those requests to the actual utility owner. It is the utility owner who has the legal duty to provide project owners with utility locations for planning purposes and to mark utility locations on the ground during construction. OUPS also preserves the record of these requests. Though OUPS provides quality assistance, project owners and contractors still need to know the law.

The “2-3-2 Rule”

One useful way to keep things straight is the “2-3-2 Rule.” There are two main statutes regarding utility protection in Ohio: one for public projects (R.C. 153.64) and the other for privately funded work (R.C. 3781.25 through 3781.32). There are three main parties to a construction project: the project owner, the utility owner, and the contractor. And there are two phases to a construction project: design and construction. The law assigns particular duties and liabilities depending on what party is involved with which phase of the project.

When considering a question of what duty someone owes under the law regarding utility protection on a construction project, it is helpful to answer the following:

1. Do the public or private project statutes apply?

2. Am I the project owner, utility owner, or contractor?

3. What stage of the project is it—design or construction?

When Must You Follow the Statutes?

The most fundamental question for all this business is when do the utility protection statutes apply? R.C. § 3785.25(H) includes a very broad definition for “excavation,” including “the use of tools, powered equipment, or explosives to move earth, rock, or other materials in order to penetrate or bore or drill into the earth, or to demolish any structure whether or not it is intended that the demolition will disturb the earth.” So practically everything from driving survey lath to excavating with a massive hydraulic excavator triggers certain legal duties.

Play By the Rules

Although determining how the statutes work can be tricky, the decision to follow them is easy because otherwise personal injury and property damage could result. OUPS remains a valuable resource for the construction community, and with the help of the “2-3-2 Rule,” utility protection just got easier.