By Brandi Merlo
SACRAMENTO — In front of Sacramento City Hall on Thursday (July 20), Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg accepted a gold shovel from PG&E’s John Higgins, commemorating the city’s commitment to safe digging practices.
Sacramento is the first municipality in California to make a public commitment to becoming a Gold Shovel Certified Community. PG&E created the program that requires contractors to adhere to the safest excavation standards to prevent injuries, property damage and outages, while reducing demand on first responders.
Under the Gold Shovel Standard, bids to work on buried utility lines are awarded exclusively to contractors demonstrating caution around buried infrastructure, including gas, electric and telecommunications.
During the news conference Mayor Steinberg, along with Sacramento Councilmember Eric Guerra and Sacramento Fire Chief Walt White, expressed their dedication to keeping the public safe and appreciation for PG&E’s partnership around safe digging.
“In a Gold Shovel Standard Community, everyone wins,” Steinberg said. “Communities, agencies and utilities hire highly-trained, dedicated and safe contractors who have taken the extra steps to earn Gold Shovel classification, reducing the number of dig-ins and protecting the public from hazards resulting from damaged underground infrastructure.”
The program is a critical tool for enhancing safety in local communities. Every six minutes in the United States an underground utility line is damaged during excavation work. Local energy companies work in partnership with city fire departments daily to protect communities from hazardous pipeline breaks. For example, in 2016 PG&E reported 1,620 incidents in which excavators damaged underground gas lines, putting communities at risk and resulting in almost $15 million in damages.
“This partnership between the city, PG&E and Gold Shovel Standard will result in less damage to buried infrastructure that is vital to our services and the services within the community, which ultimately results in less life-threating responses to injury or potentially injurious situations,” said Chief White.
One of the primary reasons damage occurs is because excavators do not call 811 or contact 811express.com, a free service that marks the location of utility lines. The second most common reason damage occurs is unsafe digging -without using hand tools- around marked utility lines.
“Safe digging saves lives and that is why PG&E is thrilled that the City of Sacramento is the first jurisdiction in California to commit to safe digging by adopting the Gold Shovel Standard. We look forward to additional cities stepping up and making the same commitment,” said Higgins, vice president of safety for PG&E.
PG&E developed the Gold Shovel Standard Certification process to ensure that hired contractors adhere to the safest excavation standards. Because of the program’s success, the independent organization Oropala was created so that across the country, contractors could seek Gold Shovel Standard certification and municipalities could become Gold Shovel Standard communities.
In exchange for companies complying with the Gold Shovel Standard (GSS), contractors receive promotional collateral material to boost their reputation as GSS-certified. To qualify, companies must provide basic awareness training and whistleblower and stop-work authority for workers; have a policy to hire Gold Shovel Standard subcontractors; and follow through with a thorough investigation in the event of an incident and report all damages, among other requirements.
811 is a free nationwide service that sends utilities to mark the presence of underground lines, including gas, electric, water and fiber optic services. Homeowners and contractors can prevent gas leaks and power outages while protecting themselves and the safety of their community by requesting an Underground Service Alert (USA) ticket.
Contractors are required by law to contact 811 at least two working days prior to excavation, but any digging project should prompt a request for a USA ticket, including planting a tree in the yard or setting posts for a picket fence. In addition to creating a possible safety hazard, failing to contact 811 may result in costly fines and project delays.
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.