Shoring up success
Working more efficiently and cutting costs: They’re two goals that we strive for across the company. That’s why when members of Local 12003 approached New England Gas Operations leadership with an idea about how to achieve them a couple years ago, we paid attention.
Wood shoring (which was done exclusively by contractors at the time) could be done more productively and save money if taken in-house and completed by Local 12003 employees, they suggested. Shoring would be done in closer coordination with a work crew’s repair schedule and lead to higher productivity, but to achieve this, they’d need to be trained and given the tools to prove it.
Wood shoring work is critical to gas repair work – it’s the process we use to reinforce the walls of a hole we’ve dug while crew members make repairs to the mains. Without shoring, the dirt walls or pieces of loose pavement could collapse on crew members, leading to injury or even suffocation. Here’s an example of what a wood shoring box looks like:
In the past, contracted crews would complete the shoring before Local 12003 employees started the repair, but the idea of training 12003 employees to do the work intrigued Dan McNamara, Director of Gas Operations for NE Central, who helped spearhead a pilot project. He helped arrange for eight Local 12003 construction and maintenance crew members to receive training in deep excavation and wood sheathing techniques in New York. Here are some of the guys who were trained (from left to right) Bill Aldridge, Matt MacKenzie, Jonathan Carrington, Michael Canto, and Steve Kelly (on ladder).
The pilot was a great example of how represented employees and management could come together to make improvements – but it wasn’t built on goodwill alone. The pilot needed to show real results if further investment would make sense, and so far, those results have been very positive. To date, jobs done by Local 12003 are showing a 50 % cost reduction.
Efficiencies come from greater coordination between internal crews who are in better communication about the repair process that involves different stages: Digging, shoring, plating, repairing the main and then backfilling it. Now close to 70% of shoring work is done by 12003 rather than contract crews, and there are discussions around the continued expansion of their work. Going forward, said McNamara, “The success will truly be driven by employee performance.”
“We knew we could do it just as well for less money,” said Billy. What’s more, the employees are enjoying the work.
“I like the constant work of it,” said Matt, who started in the service department before moving to the street department. “You get to see things you don’t see every day.”
An action-oriented job is also what drew Jonathan to the work, “Once you get started it’s not like you can just stop. You’ve got to keep going until the work is complete.”
“It’s all about safety, and for us it’s even more personal,” he said, explaining that many of the shoring crew members have also worked repairing mains. “When you’re down there working on a repair, you’re often in a very vulnerable position, sometimes even lying down to get under the pipe. We know what it’s like to be in that position, and we think about that when we’re building the shoring for the guys who will be the ones down there.”
So what’s involved in the process for building a wood shoring box that makes it so specialized?
For every job it could be different, the crew explained, depending on the depth of the hole and the kind of soil or material in the area. The crew needs to customize the shoring on each job to make sure it’s secure by building and positioning the box and then backfilling the walls around it so there is enough pressure for it to remain secure. They then have to trim it to make sure the plates lay correctly on the street. We use wood shoring on any excavation that reaches 5 ft. in depth, typically on repair projects involving large diameter gas mains (16″-36″) in and around Boston.
Shoring is an important part of the safety process when it comes to our gas work – and this pilot is helping to drive even greater gains in safety and efficiency. “This is a great example of the company and Local 12003 working together in a cooperative way to make a significant improvement to our operation – which benefits both parties,” said McNamara.