UK’s Underground Infrastructure Better Protected Than Ever

Posted: Tuesday 11th August 2020

But 90% of water sector remains very vulnerable to asset strikes.

71 percent of all digging work that takes place in the UK is now preceded by a thorough search for pipes and cables, according to Digging Up Britain 2020. The report by LSBUD, which provides a free to use, online asset search facility, reveals that a record 2,832,027 enquiries were registered on its collaborative portal in 2019, a 10 percent increase on the previous year, and almost double that of just five years ago. In essence, a search was placed every 3.7 seconds during a typical working day.

Despite this huge level of searching, the water sector remains vulnerable to asset strikes. According to the report, just 10 percent of water companies share their asset information via the LSBUD portal. This is in stark contrast to gas and electricity companies where 80 and 70 percent respectively share their network data.

Richard Broome, Managing Director of LSBUD, comments: “While it’s fantastic that asset searching on the LSBUD portal has rapidly become second nature for so many people, and the vast bulk of gas and electricity companies are now on board, the water sector is still not taking full advantage of this trend. We’ve millions of searches going through our portal, and if water companies are not part of this sea change, the whereabouts of their pipes just will not come up in those searches. For a sector that’s under pressure from Ofwat to reduce leakages by 17 percent, that seems a needless risk.”

Interestingly, according to the LSBUD report, the water sector is very active in terms of using the portal itself to search for underground assets prior to commencing its own digging work. The industry and its contractors accounted for 592,126 searches, 21 percent of the total. It came second only to the telecoms sector in terms of the volumes of searches completed.

Richard Broome continues: “It is somewhat ironic that when it comes to performing searches, water companies and those working on their behalf are extremely good. However, this willingness to use our free search facility needs to be translated into a willingness to share their asset data.”

Digging Up Britain 2020 also outlines the reason excavation work is taking place. Similar to previous years, utility works top the list with more than 2.15 million searches, a six percent jump on last year. Highways projects also grew significantly in 2019, rising by 17 percent to

421,452. There was also a 42 percent jump in agricultural projects and a 10 percent increase in searches by private individuals. This suggests that the awareness of safe digging practices is growing not just among core construction and contractor communities but also amongst the wider general public.

According to the report, utility companies are not just avoiding immediate asset strikes through their membership of the portal, many are drawing on the search data it generates to manage risk, futureproof their networks, and better identify areas of potential weakness. They are increasingly using historical data to predict who is likely to work within the vicinity of their network, the type of work they are going to do, when they are going to do it and the exact locations.

“Risk management is a critical activity within a modern utility, and our data appears to be playing an important role in this”, adds Richard Broome.

Digging Up Britain 2020 not only analyses the volumes but also the type of digging work taking place. It reports that ‘emergency searches’ increased by 59 percent on the previous year and 197 percent on two years ago with 316,922 searches deemed as urgent in 2019.

This trend is not an issue for the LSBUD collaborative portal, which deals with search requests in minutes, but it will present a challenge to asset owners such as water companies handling search enquiries themselves. Some can often take up to 28 days to provide information about their networks. The increase in ‘emergency’ requests will put huge pressure on these timescales and the companies’ enquiry teams.

Richard Broome concludes: “Over the last year we have seen significant strides being taken in terms of the volumes of assets which can now be easily found, and the numbers of thorough searches taking place before a spade hits the ground. But there is more that can be done.

“On the asset owner side, we hope that all water companies recognise the benefits of sharing their information through our portal. Those that do will be better able to protect their assets, minimise needless leaks, manage their risk and resources, and address the challenges of PR19.”

To download a copy of the Digging Up Britain report, go to

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March 2021

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