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Think before you dig

Nearly 1.5 million homeowners risk life-changing injuries from dangerous digging

  • 354 people were seriously injured after striking underground electricity power cables during the past five years
  • 79% of homeowners are unaware these live electricity cables are beneath their homes or gardens
  • Almost one in five (18%) homeowners have tackled potentially dangerous outdoor construction projects over lockdown
  • The Energy Networks Association is urging Brits to ‘Think Before You Dig’ with new emotive safety film

At WPD, we look after the electricity cables and wires that deliver electricity to homes and business in the area. As people continue to spend more time at home during the pandemic, it's important to highlight the life-threatening dangers of DIY.

New research released today by the Energy Networks Association (ENA) suggests nearly 1.5 million homeowners* could risk facing life-changing injuries due to a lack of knowledge about how to dig safely in gardens and under their homes, as many attempt outdoor projects during lockdown.

According to ENA, almost one in five (18%) British homeowners have tackled outdoor construction projects in lockdown, with the same amount planning to do so next year. Over three quarters (76%) would personally attempt construction projects that require potentially dangerous digging: 22% would pave their driveway; 25% would install their own pond or water feature; and 12% would work on building a home extension.

However, two thirds (67%) of householders do not know how to check for underground power cables, while a quarter (25%) admitted lacking the knowhow to find out. Furthermore, over half (56%) were unaware that underground power lines can be found at any depth, making even the smallest of outdoor projects (like gardening) potentially dangerous.

More than one in ten (11%) say they would attempt to locate underground power lines by digging for them themselves, which could result in an immediate threat to life if the cable has not been de-energised or avoided by adopting safe digging practices. Furthermore, 10% say that if found, they would continue digging provided they didn’t hit any cables.

Underground cables run under the majority of properties, such as houses, shops and offices. While buried and unnoticed, they silently work to power homes with electricity. They can carry voltages ranging from 230 volts to 400,000 volts and, when struck, people can experience life-threatening injuries from severe electric shocks, fires and explosions.

On average, 70 people suffer life changing injuries each year after accidentally striking underground cables and gas pipes while digging. The study by ENA, conducted with 1,000 UK householders, outlines how basic safety knowledge gaps could be putting aspiring DIY-ers at risk.

In light of these worrying research results, we are urging homeowners to ‘Think Before You Dig’ and consider the risks of underground electricity cables before starting any outdoor construction work.

Paul Woodward, Safety and Environment Manager at Western Power Distribution, says: “It’s great that many of us are finding time to undertake serious DIY projects at the moment, but it’s worrying to uncover the lack of basic knowledge needed to carry out this work safely.

“As we all continue to spend more time at home, it’s become an opportunity to tackle some of those jobs we may have been putting off. However, our survey shows a worrying number of people could be at risk of endangering themselves by digging unsafely when doing DIY.

“Underground electricity cables often go unnoticed and unthought of, with more than half of UK homeowners having never checked for them before. However, if uncovered or struck, they can be extremely dangerous. That’s why ENA is urging people to think before they dig. You must be aware of what is underground before starting work that involves breaking ground and plan your work accordingly. Stay safe and Think Before You Dig.”

To raise awareness of the dangers of underground electricity cables, ENA has launched a new emotive safety film, urging everyone to ‘Think Before You Dig’. The thought-provoking film showcases the dangers of working near underground electricity cables, following the story of a construction worker and the devastating emotional and physical impact an accident can have. The film can be viewed above.

If you are planning to do some digging over the coming months, stay safe and plan ahead by following our ‘Think Before You Dig’ DIY tips. If in doubt, contact WPD on 0800 096 3080 before you start work or call 105 for emergencies.

Western Power Distribution’s ‘Think Before You Dig’ DIY tips:

  • Think ahead - Before you start, you should contact your local energy network operator to source the electricity and other utility plans for your property
  • Check and identify - Once received, you should use a Cable Avoidance Tool (CAT and Genny) to locate all the cables shown on the plans, marking their location on the ground surface as you go
  • Use your hands – Once identified, you can begin to hand-dig trial holes to find their exact position; do not use a mechanical excavator / drill for this
  • If in concrete, make a call - If you find an underground cable embedded in concrete always assume it is live and do not attempt to break it out. Instead, you should contact your electricity network operator to ensure it is de-energised
  • Know when to vacate - If you damage an underground cable, vacate the excavation immediately, phone your electricity network operator’s emergency number, or 105, and keep everybody clear
  • Know who to call - In case of an emergency, immediately phone 999 and your local electricity network operator on the national number 105

PLAN, SCAN…. THINK before you dig

For more information, please visit our health & safety pages.

*1.5 million homeowners figure calculation: When surveyed, 10% of respondents said they wouldn’t check for any guidance when performing outdoor construction work, which could inevitably leave them at risk of injury. The 1.5 million figure is calculated based on 10% of the estimated total number of UK homeowners. According to, 14.6 million households in the UK are thought to be homeowners (data from at 10% of 14.6 million is 1.46 million – nearly 1.5 million.

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