Once every minute, underground utilities are unintentionally damaged by utility strikes during excavation work. This means fines, costly repairs, service disruptions and even serious injuries to employees. This past year, Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) has taken action to address the issue of dig-ins to underground utilities, a delicate subject faced by many in the excavation industry. In an effort to reduce the number of dig-ins and improve the safety of employees, they have 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.

Cascade Drilling, a company that keeps safety as its top priority, has recently submitted a Dig-In Prevention Policy (DPP) to PG&E, the first step in obtaining Gold Shovel Standard certification. Jamey Smith, 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 it as a best practice.

Although many of the requirements and principles of the Gold Shovel Standard are already practiced by Cascade, the EHS team believes adopting the program’s compliance and best practices will ensure commitment of employees, full support from managers and continuous improvement throughout their business. It sets the bar high for all employees and for the business as a whole.

Implementing a DPP to obtain Gold Shovel Standard certification involves creating a number of documents customized to a company’s individual policies and the type of work performed. Certification requires the following:

  • An excavation statement
  • Development of a training program
  • The delivery of training
  • Development of a corrective action plan
  • An Employee Acknowledgment and Accountability Statement
  • Inclusion of a company’s Corporate Annual T-1 Excavation Permit
  • Submission of the policy to PG&E for approval

“I had the privilege of completing and submitting the PG&E Gold Shovel Dig-in Prevention Policy (DPP) (California) this past month and found the PG&E site to be useful and helpful. I was able to submit Cascade Drilling’s DPP earlier than the cut-off date of Dec. 15, 2015,” says Smith of his recent experience with DPP submittal.

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 a Corrective Action Plan, 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 to clearly determine who is responsible for locates. The project manager is typically responsible for carrying out this corrective action within seven days prior to the project start date. This is just one example of a corrective action, but Cascade has outlined a plan for various situations that could potentially arise during a project, which helps the company to be prepared, provides clarity to employees and ensures that proper steps are taken to achieve maximum safety standards.

All Cascade employees are asked to sign an Employee Acknowledgment and Accountability Statement to confirm their understanding and compliance of all training and policies prior to excavation activities.

Implementation of the Gold Shovel Standard is important to Cascade because the company considers the safety of its workers and the general public to be among the most important aspects of its business. By adopting PG&E’s new 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 and allow the company to continue to uphold its successful health and safety program.

Making the Case

For more details on the value of a good dig-in program, see the latest DIRT report from the Common Ground Alliance at http://bit.ly/1R1OwHh.