A GROUND breaking project aims to make it safer for utilities workers to dig underground and to reduce road and water supply disruption.

Northumbrian Water and 1Spatial, a geospatial software and solutions company, are working on a project to measure and model the depth of the water company's underground network of pipes.

When complete, the maps will allow utility workers to be more confident about how deep to expect pipes and other services beneath their feet.

This will make it safer for workers who need to dig underground, by helping them to avoid striking pipes by mistake, as well as being better equipped for the job, reducing disruption to customers' water supplies and roadwork delays.

The idea to build a constantly learning model of pipe depths came out of Northumbrian Water's Innovation Festival last year. There were fears it would have to be put on hold because of coronavirus restrictions but a virtual workshop and group discussions using mobile apps and laptops meant key decisions could still be made.

Northumbrian Water's operational solutions manager, Clive Surman-Wells, said: "When we went into lockdown, we didn't think it would be possible to hold our workshop because we envisaged working on a shared flip chart, sketching things out and having lots of debate.

"However, I'm delighted that by holding the workshop virtually and using some collaboration tools, we've been able to achieve as much as we would have face to face, but without the travel and as it turns out, in less time too!

"I'm really proud that despite the challenges, we can continue to progress this really exciting and important project, as originally planned and on time, with our partners, 1Spatial."

Jess Hampton, head of utilities at 1Spatial, said: "Innovation in challenging times is what keeps things moving and enables businesses to thrive instead of flounder.

"We were thrilled to work together in such an agile and innovative way to move forward an exciting and important project. A project that will mean Northumbrian Water can continue to deliver and exceed excellent customer service levels, knowing their teams can work in a safer way while minimising disruption to the water supply."