What does a Utility Locator do?

D. Jeffress

A utility locator uses maps, schematics, and hand-held electronic devices to identify underground utility lines. He or she marks points with paint or flags to inform construction workers and homeowners of their exact locations. Their work helps prevent accidental utility damage and personal injury from digging projects. Utility locators are skilled at finding freshwater and sewer lines, power cables, natural gas mains, and other subsurface systems. Most professionals are employed by city government agencies, but some work for utility companies, construction firms, and private specialty businesses.

Force main connections for sewers and water usually are marked.
Force main connections for sewers and water usually are marked.

Utility locators drive to prospective construction sites in cities or rural areas to designate where digging might potentially disrupt pipes and conduits. In order to find lines, a locator might study a visual diagram or written instructions provided by the utility company. He or she needs to possess strong basic math and blueprint reading skills to make sure directions are followed properly. The utility locator may confirm that a map is accurate by carefully digging around a site to expose a line.

Utility locators designate where digging might disrupt underground utility lines.
Utility locators designate where digging might disrupt underground utility lines.

Some agencies provide electronic mapping systems to help locators in their work. Pre-programmed devices allow workers to quickly find and mark different sites, improving efficiency and lessening the chances of making a mistake in the field. Locators are responsible for documenting their daily finished tasks by keeping a written record or by inputting information directly into their electronic systems.

Once a pipe is found, the utility locator usually puts a flag directly above it. Many regions and companies have universal color-coding systems that locators must follow to designate the type of underground line. For example, sewer pipes may be marked with green flags and power lines with red flags. If a line runs beneath a road or sidewalk, the utility locator can use the proper color of spray paint instead of a flag.

The requirements to become a utility locator can vary. Many employers will hire people who hold high school diplomas and possess the physical and technical abilities to do the job. Previous work experience in construction or utility work can be helpful in finding entry-level positions. Individuals who are interested in improving their skills before applying for jobs can look into online and physical training programs offered by private companies, community colleges, and vocational schools. Most training classes can be completed in less than six months and teach students about the latest tools and techniques used in utility location.

A new utility locator typically begins his or her job as an assistant technician to gain hands-on experience. After mastering skills and showing a good work ethic, he or she can begin working independently on a daily basis. Many experienced locators eventually move into supervisory, training, or administrative positions.

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