Once every 6 minutes, underground utilities are unintentionally damaged by utility strikes during excavation work. This unintentional damage has very real consequences in the form of fines, costly repairs, service disruptions and potentially serious injuries to employees.
A few years ago, Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) took action to address the issue of dig-in damage to underground utilities, a delicate subject that is of major concern to many in the excavation industry. In an effort to reduce the number of dig-ins and improve the safety of employees, they launched The Gold Shovel Standard. The program, mandated in the state of California, is designed to ensure that contractors are committed to the safest excavation practices.
In 2015, Cascade submitted an annual Dig-In Prevention Policy (DPP) to PG&E, which is the first step towards obtaining Gold Shovel Standard certification.
Michael Gentry, Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) Director of Cascade, has found the program to be so useful and of such high quality that the decision was made to implement the program across all of the company’s U.S. locations. While business units in California will have a mandatory compliance component, units located elsewhere will utilize the Gold Shovel Standard as a guideline for Best Practices.
At Cascade, Safety is a top priority. Although many of the requirements and principles of the Gold Shovel Standard are already in practice at Cascade, the EHS team believes that combining elements of the program’s compliance and best practices will ensure commitment from employees, as well as full support from managers and continuous improvement throughout the business. It sets the bar high for all employees and for the business as a whole.
Implementing a Dig-In Prevention Policy to obtain Gold Shovel Standard certification involves creating a number of documents, customized for a company’s individual policies and the type of work performed.
Gold Shovel Standard Certification requires the following:
“The implementation of the Gold Shovel Standards has been quite seamless for Cascade because they align with our existing efforts and expectations,” says Gentry.
As part of the policy, Cascade has outlined line-strike prevention training requirements pertaining to the One Call Law. Employees will be trained on USA Ticket Request, USA Ticket Renewal, Tolerance Zones, and Maintenance of Marks.
Training begins for each employee during new-hire orientation and continues annually thereafter during the company’s Annual Refresher Training. To confirm complete understanding, testing is administered annually with the results kept in employee training files. Upon completion, employees earn a certificate to validate their competency and understanding.
Cascade has also defined Corrective Action Plans, another important component of achieving Gold Shovel Standard. The plan describes unsafe practices, the risks of those practices and the appropriate corrective action. Additionally, the plan indicates who should be completing the actions, the means of communication and when actions need to be completed.
For example, failing to contact utility providers to have lines marked prior to digging is an unsafe practice. The associated risks include a delay in project start date or worse, harm to human health and property. The proper corrective action is to conduct a pre-job site walk or teleconference. The Project Manager is typically responsible for carrying out this corrective action within seven days prior to the project start date.
That’s just one example of a corrective action, but Cascade has outlined a plan for various situations that could potentially arise during a project. This helps the company to be prepared, while also providing clarity for employees and ensuring that proper steps are taken to achieve maximum safety standards.
Implementation of the Gold Shovel Standard is important to Cascade. The safety of our workers and the general public are among the top priorities of Cascade’s Business. By adopting components of PG&E’s safety program across the entire company, Management is demonstrating its commitment to safety by providing the necessary facilities, equipment, training, medical monitoring, and support personnel required. Equipped with the right resources, open communication, and clearly defined procedures and responsibilities, Cascade, with the help of PG&E, will make a difference in reducing the amount of dig-in incidents, damaged utilities and most importantly, injuries.
Achieving Gold Shovel Standard certification will set the bar high for safety performance while allowing the company to continue to uphold its successful Health and Safety program. Since it’s start, Cascade has received the Gold Shovel certification each year and will continue to strive to improve and maintain our highest safety standards.
Common Ground Alliance (CGA), (2008, May). Report: Americans Strike Underground Utilities About Once Per Minute.
~By Olivia Elliot