In any new construction project, it is essential to know which utility assets are buried underground, but how do engineers, contractors, utilities and stakeholders share, assess and make sense of this important information? Standards Australia has recently revised AS 5488 Classification of Subsurface Utility Information to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the location of underground infrastructure.

Standards play an important role in the utility sector, directly and indirectly, by providing specifications, procedures and guidelines to follow.

Standards Australia is the peak body dedicated to the establishment and acceptance of standards that ensure the safety and consistency of Australian goods, products and services.

AS 5488 was first established in 2013 to improve public safety, reduce costly property damage, and provide more accurate information on the location and type of subsurface utilities.

The standard provides utility owners, operators and locators with a framework for the consistent classification of information concerning subsurface utilities. It also provides guidance on how subsurface utility information may be obtained, and how that information should be conveyed to users.

Minimising the impact on existing utilities

The upgrade will deliver significant industry benefits and ensure the standard is consistent with similar standards that have been operating successfully in the UK, USA, Canada and Malaysia for many years.

“The new AS 5488 will be presented in two parts. Part one is an update of the previous 2013 version to pick up on experience with the implementation of that version and changes in industry practices. Part two covers the additional field of engineering management of subsurface utilities, which has been seen as a gap in the earlier version,” Standards Australia said.

The new AS 5488 focuses on:

  • Engineering management and design of utilities
  • Utility model creation and data management
  • Defines the role of the Utility Coordinator and present a draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for utility owners
  • Provides a matrix of hierarchy for purposes of coordination and clash resolution
  • Describes the level of documentation required for utility designs and review asset handover procedures

“AS 5488 should provide for faster, safer and more cost-effective processes to manage subsurface utilities leading to major benefit to the economy. It is hoped this standard will help in improving the currently lagging position of Australia when compared to other countries in this field,” Standards Australia said.

“The new standard should provide a more stable and reliable framework for all involved with utilities, including but not limited to utility locators. Knowledge of precisely where and what a subsurface utility is and its status in its asset lifecycle can significantly reduce the occurrence of interference and conflict with valuable subsurface utility infrastructure.

“The utility industry generally will also benefit from the clarification of key roles and responsibilities. This covers all aspects from engineering modelling and subsurface utility design to construction and maintenance.”

Reducing risks through accurate information

Subsurface Utility Engineering (SUE) is a specialist engineering service incorporating geophysical mapping, vacuum excavation and computer surveying to allow underground facilities to be located both horizontally and vertically.

The data is then provided and managed in an electronic format for the project owner or engineer during the design stage of a construction project.

A clear understanding of the vertical and horizontal location of utility infrastructure on a construction site allows earthworks and excavation to be carried out safely, and minimises the risks for all involved.

The new AS 5488 will help ensure that underground utilities are managed during the design process rather than at the time of construction.

The benefits of this include decreased costs, improved safety through reduced utility strikes, fewer project delays, improved environmental outcomes and a more comprehensive database of underground information.

Standards Australia hopes that utilities will embrace the upgrade and see the benefits.

“As a regular process in any of its projects, Standards Australia consults widely with the industry to ensure broad representation on the Technical Committee. While the 2013 version was not as widely embraced as was hoped, further consultation with industry including state road authorities is intended to lead to a much higher uptake of the revised standard,” Standards Australia said.

The Technical Committee of Standards Australia responsible for the standard has been reviewing comments received during the consultation period and publication of the new standard is expected early this year.

Lauren ‘LJ’ Butler is the Assistant Editor of Utility magazine and has been part of the team at Monkey Media since 2018.

After completing a Bachelor of Media, Communications and Professional Writing at the University of Wollongong in 2014, and prior to writing about the utility sector, LJ worked as a Journalist and Sub Editor across the horticulture, hardware, power equipment, construction and accommodation industries with publishers such as Glenvale Publications, Multimedia Publishing and Bean Media Group.

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