The Gold Shovel Standard is an ambitious effort of the building and contracting industry to ensure a standard of industrial compliance and best practices. Certification through the GSS requires that a contractor only use similarly certified subcontractors, among many other standards. The ideal result is a significant reduction of onsite damage and transparency in operations. The standard has a stated goal of reducing damages by half on professional excavation sites.

The Gold Shovel Standard began as the internal program of a private gas distribution utility and eventually evolved into a non-profit standalone with reach over the entire industry. There were various standards in place before the GSS became the overarching industry standard, programs including the OSHA Excavations Standard. There are also associations that have been formed as a check on GSS such as NUCA. Organizations such as the Common Ground Alliance (CGA) that were formed before the GSS have also served in similar watchdog positions.

In order to become GSS certified, a company must achieve a list of standards, including the following.

  • All workers must receive basic awareness training on an annual basis.
  • Workers must have stop work and whistleblower authority.
  • All workers must follow CGA Best Practices 13.0 guidelines, with special attention given to Chapter 5.
  • With few exceptions, GSS certified contractors must hire GSS certified subcontractors.
  • Companies must submit to a thorough investigation procedure after every onsite incident.
  • Companies must invoke corrective action procedures that are based on a root cause analysis.
  • Excavators must report on site damages and submit to those damages being uploaded into the DIRT database.
  • Excavation companies must submit a limited amount of information about the scale and volume of their business.

GSS has become the major standard in most of North America; however, the initiative is far from complete. Many professionals are raising valid issues with the standard that must be addressed before the GSS can hope to become a fully recognized governing body of the construction industry. Because the authority of the GSS does not come from an official governing body, the industry is completely within its rights to shape the program as it sees fit.

Does the Gold Shovel Standard really support responsibility in damage prevention?

One of the major concerns that industry professionals have with the GSS is its scope. Many excavation professionals have noted that new standards seem to target them specifically. Damage control is already a part of excavation, and many professionals consider the GSS an additional level of scrutiny that is not necessary.

Although GSS standards are not imposed by any official government, it is likely that state and federal agencies will soon use the GSS as its own standard, for lack of a better one. Industry professionals argue this will result in needlessly additional paperwork and redundant reporting. The final result is a higher cost of doing business for no additional real safety.

Some professionals report that GSS requirements may even impose upon the sacred and legally protected relationship between attorney and client. If some aspect of excavation is disputed, a GSS certified company may be required to report information that is within the scope of protection.

GSS is currently a completely voluntary, opt in program, at least on paper. In reality, companies are being shut out of the best contracts if they do not submit to and obtain GSS certification. Many companies argue that the standards set by the CGA are already more than enough, and the GSS is just another level of bureaucracy and red tape that blacklists certain companies without access or the willingness to report certain information (that may be legally protected).

Additionally, the GSS did not come as a consensus of the majority of industry professionals like the CGA. Because of the more exclusive nature of its founding, companies on the outside consider the imposition of the standard a competitive hindrance that may or may not be illegal as well as unethical.

Most importantly, these professionals may have an argument that the GSS does not actually impose any more protection over a site than CGA standards – only more paperwork. It remains to be seen if the GSS is illegal in any way, but many professionals are already pointing to standards that have been agreed upon for the better part of two decades as a solid benchmark that is working just fine.

Who should your excavation professional be?

If you are looking for an excavation professional with internal safety measures you can depend on, look no further than the dedicated professionals of Underground Services, Inc. There is a reason that our clients informally refer to us as “SoftDig” – we take great pains to ensure the safety of our site and reduce our footprint. For more information about the standards that regulate our work, a portfolio of our previous clients or any other question, you may have, get in touch with us at (610) 738-8762 or use our online estimate request form.

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