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Utility locators are responsible for pinpointing the paths of cables, pipes and other conduits that carry utilities underground. Their work can be seen in the thin metal rods -- usually topped with a brightly colored pennant -- that are stuck in the ground to mark the paths of underground utilities as they pass through neighborhoods. The locators' efforts protect underground utilities from damage during projects involving excavation.
To facilitate identifying utility pathways, locators work with utility maps as a guide, but they must also confirm that the locations marked on the maps are accurate. If the maps prove inaccurate, the locators use electronic sensors to pinpoint the precise location of underground utilities. Once they know where a utility conduit is located, they place thin metal rods to mark its path.
Color coding allows utility locators to identify each specific type of utility. Locators also leave spray-painted marks on sidewalks and streets to indicate the presence of underground utilities. The color of the spray paint indicates the type of utility. The Uniform Color Code used for utility line marking was developed by the American Public Works Association, or APWA. Green represents sewers and drain lines; purple for reclaimed water, irrigation and slurry lines; blue for potable water; orange for telecommunications, alarm or signal lines; yellow for gas, oil, steam, petroleum or gaseous materials; and red for electric power lines and cables.
Personal Qualities and Educational Requirements
Personal qualities desirable in a utility locator include attention to detail, a passion for accuracy and an ability to work on his own. Generally speaking, no college degree is necessary for this position, although individual employers may set that as a requisite for jobs. In areas where locators must be certified, short-term training courses are available to prepare workers for the certification exam. All candidates must have a valid driver’s license and be able to get to remote job sites.
Despite a widespread campaign to inform the public about the dangers of digging before utility locations have been marked, some people ignore the plea and begin excavation before utilities are pinpointed, resulting in substantial damage and even death. At a September 2009 presentation, an APWA conference group learned that an underground utility line of some sort is hit every 60 seconds, with a cumulative financial impact totaling billions of dollars each year.
Opportunities and Earnings
Utility locators, also known as utility location technicians, work for various companies, including utilities and utility location service companies, and also as private contractors. The average annual salary for a utility locator as of July 2014 was $33,048, according to CareerBuilder.com.