There are No Shortcuts When it Comes to Safety

A cave-in survivor, Utah plumber insists on shoring for every trench project.
There are No Shortcuts When it Comes to Safety

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Gerald Stott, owner of Stott Plumbing and Heating in Salt Lake City, Utah, had spent a good many years in the industry getting his training and licenses before opening his own business in 1978.

Today, he and his two sons, Mike and Bryan, provide plumbing and heating, CCTV, drain cleaning, line replacement, directional boring, pipe bursting and excavation services to residential and commercial customers.

Before Stott begins any excavation he insists trench boxes are on the site and remain on site until the project is complete.

“There is never an excuse to forgo the trench box,” he says.

Q: What kind of safety procedures do you and your employees follow when making sewer repairs in terms of using shoring on work sites in trenches?

A: Shoring in the trenches is absolutely essential. It could destroy your business if you do not, as well as put your workers in terrible jeopardy. One accident of any sort and you are out. You must always be sure a trench box is used, and that your worker uses a hard hat and all protective gear called for. OSHA is non-forgiving and you don’t want an accident.

Q: Do you have any experiences you can share?

A: A trench 5 feet deep is where you need a shoring box. I was in a 4-foot-deep trench and bent over to hook up a pipe when the trench gave way. It flattened me out. I felt like I’d been hit by a pro football player. It was not illegal, but it was a sobering experience.

Q: Anything else?

A: About 10 years ago we had an experience where we had dug a hole and were ready to put the shoring box together. Our worker dropped a shovel in the trench and stepped down to grab and pull it up. A nice young lady walked up and asked how we were doing. We said fine, and how are you? Our man was out of the trench at this point when she said, “I’m writing you a ticket for $15,000.” Well, after a lot of classes and negotiation and agony, we got it reduced to $400. Thankfully, nobody got hurt. It’s just not worth it to take any chances.

Q: What can be done to slow the deadly trend of plumbers losing their lives in trench accidents?

A: No. 1, always use a shoring box. No. 2, you have regular monthly safety meetings. No. 3, if you have an employee who violates the rules, you give him a week off without pay and tell the worker that he will not work for the company if he does not follow the proper safety procedures. It’s hard to punish an employee with a week without pay, but he still has a job. It is very important to us that they always use the shoring box and that they stay safe. We have companies that sell the shoring boxes come in and talk with our people. They are a good resource.

Q: Is the trench box a safety measure that can be depended upon?

A: Yes, if properly installed. In our company, before a hole is ever dug, we have our sewer trailer and the trench box on the site. And it stays on site until the job is done and the hole is filled. There is never an excuse to not have a shoring box on the site we are working.  

Q: What are some other safety concerns you address?

A: We worry about tripping, falling, the use of tools, and working around large equipment such as backhoes.

Q: Switching subjects: What advice do you have for a plumbing company thinking of expanding into sewer and drain cleaning?

A: I suggest they go someplace other than Salt Lake City so they are not competing with me. Seriously, you need to have the proper equipment. Don’t go on the cheap side. I’ve seen people break into the industry with a minimum amount of equipment. You need a selection of machines that do different things. Don’t go in underfunded without the proper equipment. Having one properly equipped truck is better than three trucks that are poorly equipped.

Q: Why did your plumbing company make the move into drain and sewer cleaning?

A: We were doing excavating for companies doing sewer replacement, and our policy was to never take business from another firm if we had gone out for that competitor on a job. So basically we were being a helper to the other plumbing company. We decided to offer the service with Stott Plumbing & Heating. We started off with one truck. We built it up slowly and now have four service vans in that department.

Q: Did you feel confident going in that direction?

A: Completely confident. I did it gradually, starting with the one truck until that driver got too busy to handle it. Then we added another truck.

Q: What are the important tools you need?

A: You need sewer augers in several sizes: small for cleaning washbasins, medium for cleaning kitchen sinks and large for cleaning sewer lines and even the mainlines. We use our small jetters a lot. The trailer jetter does not go out on every call, just when needed.

Q: Finally, how would you rate yourself as a boss?

A: Poor.

Q: Are you too kind-hearted?

A: Quite the opposite. I have learned the best thing for me to do is take some time off, work on my 1965 Mustang, and let my two sons, who are my business partners, take over and confront an employee. I expect a great deal from my employees. 



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