Gold Shovel Standard: More Important Now than Ever Before

Damage prevention is very complex. It is an appreciation of this complexity that led me to explore and, later after being asked, to serve on the Board of Directors of Gold Shovel Standard (GSS).

GSS is an evolution of a previous program started  by PG&E. A group of industry professionals, both buried asset-owners and leading excavators, got together to determine how to improve public and workforce safety during excavation activities. The result was the establishment of GSS, an independent 501c3 nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to increasing public and workforce safety during excavation activities, and committed to continued improvement of all stakeholders through transparency in underground safety and damage prevention performance.

The general consensus in the early days of GSS, and the concept that has helped shape the program ever since, was the notion of continuous improvement in safety protocols and damage prevention awareness. Not that continuous improvement is an easy goal, or one without challenges. Two of the immediate roadblocks to industrywide improvement are the overall lack of transparency in damage prevention and the lack of clarity in damage prevention performance.

GSS believes significant reduction in damages can be realized when all responsible stakeholders, including buried-asset owner/operators, excavators and locators, continuously improve their safety and damage prevention programs. We also acknowledge that reliable measurements underpin continuous improvement.

How Does Gold Shovel Standard Do It?
A core principle of GSS is fair and transparent metrics. Fair and transparent metrics have become a staple in other areas of the business world and are a very effective means of driving continuous improvement. Our data-driven environment now uses metrics in determining everything from hospital patient safety to car safety and efficiency. Why should safety and damage prevention stakeholders settle for less?

Developing broadly-deployed damage prevention metrics for buried-asset owners, excavators
and locators is key to a dramatic increase in public and workforce safety. Though most of us put safety first, some stakeholders do not; they do anything to get the job done and do not worry
about their impact on the areas they work in and the people who live there. A program like GSS is a natural evolution in the 811 process that should be continuously improving.

Introduction to Gold Shovel Standard
I was initially skeptical about the GSS program and the achievability of its goals. There are many organizations that have worked to move the needle on excavation safety and damage prevention. GSS has filled a void where no official mechanism existed for identifying those who embrace safety and keeping damages to vital facilities at a minimum.

GSS had a rocky start in terms of program implementation and miscommunication with stakeholders involved. But over the last six months of seeking the advice and counsel of people in the construction industry, and getting buy-in from both buried asset owners and the  contractor community, GSS has started the process of introducing data into excavation safety and standards. In the past few months, GSS has created an Excavator Metrics Committee that is comprised mostly of contractors (75%). They are working to create a system of reporting that results in a series of combined metrics that are perceived as fair and transparent by excavation contractors.

GSS continues to work hand-in-hand with all stakeholders, and seeks to keep the program nimble and responsive to the challenges we face. GSS recognizes that all stakeholders care about safety and seeks to put that concern front and center.

GSS also acknowledges the two-way road that is underground utility safety and damage prevention. Utilities have to take responsibility for their buried infrastructure and also take ownership of the primacy of the need for good and cautious contractors who follow safety protocols.

Today, GSS is filling an industry gap by providing third-party confirmation of baseline Safety Management Systems for the protection of buried assets and fair and transparent metrics for damage prevention. Gold Shovel Standard certified organizations have demonstrated an enhanced commitment to high safety standards and ongoing engagement with continued
training and education in industry best practices.

GSS believes that no significant reduction in damages will be obtained unless all responsible
parties (operators, excavators, locators) continuously improve, and measurements underpin
continuous improvement.

Metrics remains a key part of the GSS mission, and we will continue to explore using them to enhance and improve the 811 process. The absence of metrics to measure the performance of individual companies in damage prevention is a glaring gap in our ability to continuously

GSS will continue to evolve in the months to come. A primary goal is to have excavators actively
seek GSS certification rather than feel pressured into doing it. Since its inception, GSS has  helped more than 1,000 organizations fill a gap in their current processes.

The promise of GSS is to expand opportunities for stakeholders, particularly excavators, in
an era of booming construction. The excavating community is filled with good players and
well-established players, as well as people new to the industry. We invite any interested party
to reach out directly to the program for the latest and most up-to-date information and we will
be happy to connect anyone directly with peer companies to hear from them how the program
is working.

Allen Gray is Carolina AGC’s NC/SC Government Relations, Utility Division Director. To learn more about Gold Shove Standard, visit

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