By Julie Fitz-Gerald
Drillers identify concerns and suggest solutions
By Julie Fitz-Gerald
In today’s world where computers reign supreme and office jobs are the norm, earning a living in the physically demanding industry of water well drilling is not a popular choice among young people entering the workforce.
In fact, finding able workers who are up to the challenge is one of the biggest issues drillers are currently facing, with safety training and communication within the industry rounding out the list.
Rob Caho, director of sales and marketing at Diedrich Drill Inc., based in Indiana, says the concern he hears about most when he’s out in the field is finding people who are interested in this type of work.
“It’s not an easy job to do. It’s a very physical job and people are not brought up that way anymore. You used to be able to find them on the farms, but there are just not that many farmhands to be found anymore. A lot of drillers right now have been doing it for a long time and are getting to the age where they’re hoping to retire. We’re having to find people outside of the industry,” Caho explains.
He says attending farm shows, co-ops and visiting colleges that offer trades are good places to start the search. But it’s not easy. “It’s still a very good occupation for a lot of people, but the computers and the high tech in the world have led us to the wrong side as far as our industry and any industry that involves physical work.”
Safety reigns supreme
Safety is a big issue on the job site, says Caho. Awareness, training and measures to protect workers should always be in place, but often in a push to complete jobs they may not be top of mind. Caho says electrocution, repetitive motion injuries and entanglement are the top safety concerns on job sites today. “All accidents out there in the field are preventable,” he notes. “The old way of thinking was that stuff happens, but that’s just not acceptable anymore. Every accident is preventable if they slow down, take their time and make sure they’re doing it correctly and safely. The person who is actually responsible for safety is you. It’s nobody else; it’s up to you.”
For more senior drillers, safety concerns usually revolve around repetitive motions and changing the ergonomics of how they carry out certain tasks to make it easier on their bodies. For junior drillers, safety concerns centre on their inexperience.
“The newer guys don’t know what can hurt them. They’re always trying to carry too much weight over their heads and they need to slow down and understand that they will get hurt if they don’t do the safe practices,” Caho says.
While companies are required by regulators to have safety training and maintenance programs in place, such programs are not always adequately implemented and followed up on. “You see guys go to training because they have to be there and then they throw it out the window. It starts from the top down. The CEO of the company or whoever’s in charge has to buy into the safety and maintenance programs and they have to follow it all the way through to the finish and implement it in the field, be it through supervisors or whoever that might be, to make sure they’re all actually doing those safe practices all the time,” he says.
Shawn Hopper, vice-president of Durl Hopper Ltd., in southwestern Ontario, is a third-generation driller who’s been working in the field since 1989. He has noticed the same issues with safety here in Ontario. “In many cases, some of that training takes a bit of a back seat because of the time it consumes in the everyday function of your business. Safety training requirements continue to escalate depending on the level of what you provide and what your range of industry connection is,” Hopper explains.
Hopper suggests adopting the necessary systems and protocols to ensure you stay up to speed with the renewal of licences and safety training. “To be a professional in the industry and to show that you have the initiative and the capability to accomplish certain things requires team awareness of everything that’s required.”
Out in the field, tailgate safety meetings are a crucial tool to ensure everyone is aware of safety protocols and particular concerns that may vary by job site. According to Caho, these gatherings should occur daily.
“A tailgate safety meeting consists of sitting on the tailgate for a safety discussion and getting everybody involved, on a daily basis. You always have that one guy in the corner that doesn’t want to be there and doesn’t care about it and he’s the one who usually ends up getting hurt at the end of the day because he wasn’t paying attention. Get that person who’s sitting in the corner to run the safety meeting. Give him a topic and help him out to run the discussion. Get him involved; get everybody involved in the tailgate safety meeting,” he urges.
Communication among competitors
One could argue that communication doesn’t always come easy to well drillers; however, it’s an important tool in many facets of the business. For Hopper, a lack of communication among drilling companies is one of the biggest issues he sees out in the field – an unfortunate problem considering the benefits it can bring the business.
“I would say the most common issue is a lack of interpersonal communication within the drilling industry,” he says. “Because we’re a relatively small industry, I think the competition aspect makes it difficult for a lot of smaller companies to communicate with one another and there are a lot of benefits to doing that. It gives the advantage of having some scope of what’s taking place in the industry, what work is being accomplished and how it’s being accomplished. When there’s greater communication, there tends to be less concern and a little bit less tension.”
Always ready to offer a helping hand to fellow drillers, Hopper’s business has seen the benefits of good relations first-hand.
“Having a closer, friendly relationship with competitors has really improved things for us because it gives you a better pulse of what’s going on in the industry and it also gives you a broader scope of people to talk to if you have concerns and issues or if you need to borrow or rent equipment. There tends to be a real lack of camaraderie that there could potentially be in the industry.”
According to Hopper, the best way to open the lines of communication is by simply reaching out to fellow competitors and offering a helping hand when it’s needed.
Professionalism with clients
Building on a friendlier approach with competitors, the need for greater professionalism with clients is another important issue. Hopper says this is a weak point in the industry due to the fact that many in the field are owner/operators with diverse job descriptions. Multi-tasking as office managers, vice-presidents, accountants, field supervisors and drill operators doesn’t leave a lot of time for providing superior client relations, he says. However, it’s an important aspect of the business that should not be overlooked.
“I think the one thing we could do and one thing that I could see the respective associations looking at is to potentially provide some training on certain fronts, which could improve the capabilities of some of these individuals, including myself, in being able to handle a multi-tasking environment. It’s hard to be a professional and be super proficient at everything that you do. You may be a wonderful driller but maybe you’re bad at dealing with clients. Maybe you’re wonderful at talking to people but you’re horrible at something else. We all have strengths and weaknesses and there are areas where certain types of training might really benefit the industry,” Hopper says.
Talking about the issues facing drillers today can raise awareness and lead to ideas for improvements and ultimately a more positive work environment for all involved.
Julie Fitz-Gerald is a freelance writer based in Uxbridge, Ont., and a regular contributor to Ground Water Canada.