Ground Water Canada

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Drill a safer worksite

Drill safety is about more than being careful.


January 5, 2012
By Treena Hein

Safety is the most important aspect of drilling, asserts Gord Bailey, Resources Drilling and Blasting program co-ordinator at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ont.

Safety is the most important aspect of drilling, asserts Gord Bailey, Resources Drilling and Blasting program co-ordinator at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ont.

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Top head cages/guards reduce the chances of employees being injured during drilling. Photo credit: Laibe Corporation 

There are a number of ways to ensure you’ve done all you can to protect the well-being of you and your staff. Read on for great ideas on how to keep your worksite safe.

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Hidden dangers
Weather is one of these considerations that could be overlooked.

“Weather plays a big role in drilling safety,” says Bailey. “If it’s cold, clothing can restrict your movement and can reduce peripheral vision. If it’s hot, you may remove safety clothing. In the heat, you can also get dehydrated and that can affect your thinking.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day grind and bypass routines that just don’t seem that necessary. But letting your guard down to go about your daily business is an invitation for accident.

“Other than the obvious things like loose clothing I think apathy is the greatest danger around drilling rigs,” notes Brad Myers, secretary-manager of the Alberta Water Well Drilling Association. He notes that all drilling rigs manufactured in Canada since the early 1990s have emergency shutdowns, and adds that “daily testing of them should be routine, but I suspect it isn’t done that often.”

Besides the action of drilling itself, Bailey notes that hazards at the site need to be accounted for. “The ground is getting crowded with many things like high voltage and natural gas lines, so you need to do a thorough check before you begin,” he says.

Many old drills don’t have guards, and that’s a big concern in Bailey’s view.

“None of the guards meets Ontario standards, and a lot of our equipment is old and it’s difficult to retrofit it without causing more problems.”

Top head cages/guards reduce the chances of employees being injured during drilling, agrees Laibe Corporation sales representative Blake Fahl, but he notes that drill rod loading and catwalks are another area of concern. “Laibe Corp supplies drilling rigs into other worldwide markets, [and] these additional markets will demand safety options that can be intergraded into the water well drilling rigs,” he notes. “Most designs are typically installed on our new rigs, but we will try and include installation options that can be used to upgrade rigs already working in the field.”

Fleming College and the Ontario Ground Water Association have met with the Ontario Ministry of Labour with regard to guarding issues, and Ministry spokesperson William Lin confirms that staff there are currently creating a bulletin with directions and recommendations on guards. No date has been set for completion at this time.

Beyond guards
Water well and mining drill manufacturer Atlas Copco offers a variety of safety guards on their drilling equipment. However, Peter Walsh, a business line manager at the company’s Mississauga, Ont., office says, “The working area at the base of the machines is particularly challenging, as drillers need clear and ‘clean’ access in and around the platform [for] casing installations and pipe handling.” To address this, Atlas has installed an automated pipe-handing system on water well equipment, but Walsh notes, “this system is not equal to the manual handling of the pipe, so there is a reluctance from the market to accept these systems.”

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About five years ago, Schramm made changes to its water well and geothermal drilling systems by expanding the use of “drill pipe lazy susans.” Photo credit: Schramm 

He adds that while “there is a mandate from regulating bodies in most areas of the globe to enforce water well equipment operators to use these automated systems…the challenge we have today is to have operator acceptance.”

Observations from Schramm Drilling Rigs are similar. “Instead of focusing on guards, because they impede the drilling process and are often therefore removed by drilling crews, we looked at the causes of injuries with drilling and looked for solutions to prevent accidents, which occur with handling drill pipes, tools and tubulars,” says Bruce Mackay, Schramm’s vice-president of product support. About five years ago, Schramm made changes to its water well and geothermal drilling systems by expanding the use of “drill pipe lazy susans.”

“These revolving devices are mounted on the drill’s mast and allow a worker to more safely manage drill pipe, without the need for handling drill pipe with slings and requiring a second person,” he says. “Our lazy susan allows a single driller to avoid handling these things, making the job much safer. [It] handles up to 15 pieces of 20- or 25-foot-long drill pipe, for a total of up to 375 feet, which is enough for most geothermal jobs.”

Deep water wells that reach greater depths can be addressed with an articulating loading arm (which can remove drill pipe from a rod box or support truck and safely present to the tophead) or the Schramm Loadsafe pipe-handling system (which handles drill pipe, casing and all other tubulars).

“The more safe we make our industry, the more professional it’ll be,” Bailey asserts. “When there’s an accident, it affects everyone, and so everyone should be taking responsibility for safety issues.”

He highly recommends a “tailgate safety meeting” every morning to go over the jobs for the day, identify potential hazards and safety issues, brainstorm what could be done and what actions should be taken. “Some companies don’t do it, and everyone should,” Bailey says. “Incorporate it into your routine.

Meyers agrees. He believes proper initial training/orientation is critical, but that this must be followed up with regular safety meetings and refreshers.

“[Not having regular reminders] lets panic cloud your actions when trouble occurs,” he says. “We’ve lived by that philosophy and remained ‘lost time accident’ free for over 30 years in our company.”

There are many ways to help make your day safer for you and your crew. Regular meeting help your crew remember what to do in an emergency. Equipment developments such as automated pipe handing and “lazy susans” allow for safer handling.

Be aware and diligent throughout your day, and stress the need for awareness. Apathy is just plain dangerous and accidents are not a lesson one wants to learn the hard way.   


Treena Hein is a science writer based in Ontario.