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Drill-rig safety

Innovative technology and best practices are crucial to drill-rig safety


June 16, 2015
By Julie Fitz-Gerald

Topics

Drill-rig safety is one of the most important aspects of water well and geothermal drilling in Canada. By instituting a few key best practices, such as keeping open the lines of communication, and being aware of the technologies geared to safety, drilling companies can make their jobsites safer places to work.

Drill-rig safety is one of the most important aspects of water well and geothermal drilling in Canada. By instituting a few key best practices, such as keeping open the lines of communication, and being aware of the technologies geared to safety, drilling companies can make their jobsites safer places to work.

Fotolia_dril safety 
Communication is paramount and holding a quick meeting before work begins each morning provides the perfect opportunity to discuss the job at hand.

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The onus lies with the company to provide proper training and a safe work environment to protect their employees and keep the worksite running smoothly, day in and day out.

Keeping both new and seasoned workers safe while operating drill rigs comes down to two things: following proper safety protocols and employing adequate safety features on the rigs themselves.

As with any task, people are often conscientious and careful when they start out, but prone to shortcuts and subpar practices as their comfort level increases. According to Bill Fitzgerald, general manager of Canadian drill-rig manufacturer Sonic Drilling Ltd. based in Surrey, B.C., drillers need to stay on their toes and give proper attention to the task in front of them. “The most common mistake drillers make is rushing on the job or losing their focus on the task at hand,” Fitzgerald says. “It’s critical to not become distracted and to take your time.”

For water well and geothermal business owners, ensuring that your team consists of competent employees and supervisors is essential to ensuring smooth operations in the field and the safety of everyone involved. William Lin, a media spokesperson with the Ontario Ministry of Labour, notes by email that “Drillers need to be fully trained and have completed progressive experience operating a drill, both as the operator and as a front person or assistant to the driller.”

With a trusted team operating the drill rig, owners can rest assured that safety protocols will be followed without taking any shortcuts to save on time. Fitzgerald offers several ways to further bolster safety on the worksite: “Daily inspections of the rig and tooling, ensuring everyone has their personal protective gear on, and good communication between drillers are all necessary,” he adds. “And tailgate meetings before you start the job are a great way to ensure everyone stays safe.”

In fact, communication is paramount and holding a quick meeting before work begins each morning provides the perfect opportunity to discuss the job at hand, allowing workers to raise any questions or safety concerns before getting started. Communication with workers about hazards on the jobsite is also an important requirement by the provinces.

“The employer must acquaint a worker or a person in authority over a worker with any hazard in the work and in the handling, storage, use, disposal and transport of any article, device or equipment,” Lin writes. “The driller (worker) must comply with their roles and responsibilities under the [Occupational Health and Safety] Act in section 28, which includes not removing guarding when operating the drill.”

When new safety regulations and stricter project requirements are implemented, an increasing number of drilling companies are required to employ specific safety systems on drill-rig operations. These systems are designed to eliminate any physical lifting over 40 pounds as well as prevent physical contact with rotating rods.

“The safety cages are a critical piece of equipment that makes sure drillers are not exposed to any moving parts of the drill, while the various rod-handling options reduce heavy, repetitive lifting. Plus, [Sonic Drilling’s] faster drilling time and shortened time on site is very helpful when you’re working on a busy street with traffic whizzing by,” Fitzgerald explains.

Many manufacturers now offer rigs complete with safety cages and emergency cut-off switches to prevent drillers from coming into contact with an active drill. For example, Sonic Drilling’s safety cage has a hinged access door on the front, which when opened, immediately stops the spindle rotation. In addition, a spring-centred override switch at the console allows five rpm of rotation at low torque, giving drillers greater control. Closing the door of the safety cage reactivates full rotation and torque. With all switches and circuits designed to be tamper-proof, it’s impossible for operators to bypass the safety system.

Rod-handling systems are another important safety feature on the market today. They greatly improve the safety of rigs by eliminating the heavy lifting and potential safety hazards associated with dropped rods. Sonic Drilling developed its Single Rod Loader in 2011. The company says the system can be attached to existing machines, added as an option to new drill rigs or roughed in on new machines to allow for its addition down the road. It consists of an arm, rotary actuator and clamping assembly, the loader mounts to the front of the drill rig’s breakout table, and it’s powered off the rig’s hydraulic system. The loader is hosed with quick connects, allowing for easy removal in sites with limited access or low-overhead indoor applications. The arm is fitted with a safety shut-down system that prevents operators from standing on the arm or becoming pinned between the arm and the ground.

Taking this innovative idea one step further is the Hands-Free Rod Handling system. These systems offer maximum safety, with no physical contact required by operators during rod loading and unloading. Bohrmeister’s system has a hydraulic system that runs off the drill rig’s own hydraulic system and is operated by the driller’s helper. The entire system is modular and can be easily forklifted on and off the drill-rig frame as well as connected with hydraulic quick connects. It can be easily retrofitted to existing drills and its magazine can be disassembled into two pieces for economical shipping in a 20-foot container. According to Bohrmeister’s website, the “Hands Free Rod Handling” system drastically reduces operator fatigue and dramatically improves safety during the drilling operation, without compromising production.” Sonic Drilling recognized the safety and operational benefits of Bohrmeister’s system and is now the exclusive North American distributor.

The array of drill-rig safety features widely available on the market today means drilling companies can provide their workers with the right equipment to get the job done efficiently and safely. With an emphasis on operational safety protocols and greater communication, drillers across the country can enjoy a safer work environment using innovative technology designed for their protection.


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