ST. LOUIS – Missouri 811, the new name for what’s been known in the past as Missouri One Call, just held a safety forum in which contractors called out a broken system that’s threatening lives.

“A huge safety issue,” said David Underdown.

Underdown operates Underdown Trenching, which was working on Manchester and Barrett Station.

“There’s a power plant over there. It’s feeding a lot around the area, so we want to make sure everything’s safe,” he said.

Underdown is one of many contractors who recently spoke out about the utility markings they rely on before digging. Underdown said they are often marked wrong.

“Almost every job,” he said. “Luckily, we have very experienced guys who can walk out a job site and look at different phone pedestals, Ameren transformers things like that and say ‘Ok, obviously there’s a line coming out of this box somewhere, but it’s not marked.’”

Another contractor at the meeting reported 220 recent excavation job sites in which underground utility lines were either not marked or mistaken. He said it accounted for 49% percent of their digging work last week.

“I totally understand the frustration,” said Randy Norden, executive director of Missouri 811.  

Norden set up the safety meeting. He said they need solutions quickly.

“We want to minimize damage prevention. We want zero loss of life,” Norden said.

He said we’ll soon see even more digging because of spending for Broadband in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

“It’s going to get busier and that space in the ground is getting crowded,” Norden said.

“That’s scary,” Underdown said. “It’s bad now.”

Underdown fears it won’t get any safer, until regulators start also investigating the locate company, after a line is struck.

“Who looks bad in that situation?” Underdown said. “It’s going to be the contractor every time, because a lot of people don’t understand the process of how all this works.”

The largest locate company, also at that safety meeting, said calls to locate lines from fiber companies alone rose by 167% over last year and that they’re having to mark entire neighborhoods rather than just one or two houses.

The company also said it’s battling workforce attrition it said was 70% a year ago and that they’ve gotten that down to 40% this year.

FOX 2 will continue monitoring this safety issue as regulators are still working on their report about what happened in the O’Fallon, Missouri home explosion, eight months ago.