Distribution Contractors Association: Concerns Remain about ‘Gold Shovel Standard’

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Members of the Distribution Contractors Association (DCA) continue to be forced to enroll in the “Gold Shovel Standard” (GSS), a certification and monitoring program conducted primarily in the gas distribution industry. While the goal of increased damage prevention is one that DCA members have strived for long before GSS was conceived, the association remains skeptical that a new certification program is valuable unless and until a workable metric is established.

DCA appreciates the leadership of Kevin Miller, president of Miller Pipeline and past president of DCA, for agreeing to serve on the GSS board of directors at a time when it clearly needs more contractor input.

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“GSS has virtually gone back to the drawing board, and the program needs a lot of work if GSS is ever going to be workable for gas distribution contractors,” said Rob Darden, DCA’s chief executive. “Obviously, a lot more contractor perspective is needed if GSS is ever going to earn contractor buy-in, and we thank Kevin for stepping up.”

Some DCA members see possible merit to measuring performance if the scope is exclusive to a local distribution company (LDC) and its contractors – virtually all DCA members agree that the Gold Shovel Standard concept will not be workable if approached from a national level, and certainly not across multiple markets. “A set of metrics applied nationwide to a range of underground facilities is just not feasible,” Darden added.

Following several meetings over the past six months, DCA is pleased that GSS leaders are beginning to respond to DCA’s concerns. On June 1, GSS reported that the Metrics Committee, charged with establishing “a series of measurements which Gold Shovel Standard can adopt,” is expected to present recommendations on metrics to the GSS board of directors later this year.

GSS also reported that the Review Committee concept has been eliminated, meaning that GSS will not review or evaluate damages and therefore “avoid determining fault.” DCA is pleased that GSS now understands that evaluating damage data on a national level to determine fault is not realistic. However, such determinations are needed in order to “measure” any stakeholder performance. Any implication of fault on a contractor for a damage resulting from an unmarked or mismarked facility will not likely be considered an acceptable metric, and certainly won’t generate “buy-in” from an already skeptical contractor community.

DCA appreciates that GSS is now assembling a committee to prepare a certification process for owners and operators and the locate companies that work for them. LDCs, locators and gas distribution excavators would have to be certified, measured and evaluated on the same level and subject to the same requirements and metrics for this program to be fair and transparent, as promised by GSS. While there are still many doubts about the feasibility of this approach given the needed commitment required by all stakeholders, DCA believes that more contractor input can only help improve the current situation.

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“If GSS is truly committed to an approach to damage prevention that evaluates and measures operators and their locators under the same criteria and requirements as are subject to contractors, then that would reflect a sense of shared responsibility in damage prevention,” said Eben Wyman, DCA’s Washington representative. “Of course, the Common Ground Alliance has set the table on this concept for 17 years, which begs the question: is there really a need for a new damage prevention program?”

DCA continues to encourage its members to opt-out of reporting damages to GSS, as currently allowed by GSS program leaders, unless and until a workable metric is established. In addition, DCA will continue to encourage GSS to suspend the aggressive solicitation of LDCs and compelled participation by gas distribution contractors until that metric is developed and agreed to by the contractors. Until then, the “buy-in” sought by GSS leaders will continue to be challenging.

The DCA represents contractors, suppliers and manufacturers who provide distribution construction services including installation, replacement and rehabilitation of gas pipelines and fiber optic, cable and duct systems in communities across the country.

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