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Job safety: Being smart on drill sites will save lives and add to the bottom line

Drill site injury costs can significantly set a company back

April 30, 2024  By Mike Jiggens


A driller is properly attired in personal protective equipment. Photo credit: Westphalia/Getty Images

Working safely at a job site is just as important for the seasoned veteran as it is for the rookie driller, but it’s the new hire who will need to be reminded most about safety protocols and who will rely on his experienced colleagues to set the example.

Brock Yordy, a third-generation driller and industry educator, spoke of the importance of safety training for new hires and on-the-job safety practices in December during the National Ground Water Association’s Groundwater Week in Las Vegas.

He said although there is great safety information available to the industry, “We just need to be smart.”

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Drill site injuries are expensive in more ways than one. There are both direct and indirect costs associated with injured workers. The direct cost of a worker who is injured on the job might be $40,000, but the true cost is much greater when factoring in such items as lost time, lost profit, overtime costs, administrative costs, costs of training a replacement worker and loss of productivity. 

Yordy recalled an occasion when a young worker had inadvertently set himself on fire when fueling a hot three-inch gasoline pumper. The flames shot up his hand and arm, resulting in cadaver skin being grafted onto his wounds for six weeks. By the time everything was taken into consideration, the indirect cost to the company was a half-million dollars.

In the United States, there are about 7.9 million people employed in construction jobs, including 1.2 million workers whose specific industry involves drilling. The number represents several potential injuries or fatalities if the right safety protocols aren’t followed.

It’s not always an accident that can keep a worker off the job and cause a company financial hardship. Weather, for example, is something that can’t be controlled, but there are safeguards to protect workers from heat or cold-related setbacks.

Hypothermia is a “big deal,” Yordy said, admitting winter gear tends to be bulky yet must be worn and must be waterproof.

“Hand injuries go up in the winter,” he said. “Where are their gloves?”

If protective clothing isn’t waterproof, a worker’s core body temperature is likely to plummet.

“There’s nothing worse than trying to operate and execute effectively on a dangerous job site and being cold and miserable.”

Unsafe acts, unsafe conditions
Workplace injuries can be the result of either unsafe acts or unsafe conditions. About 80 per cent of all job site injuries are caused from unsafe acts which are any hazard created because of human action or behaviour. Unsafe conditions, which are responsible for about 20 per cent of injuries, include any physical hazard related to equipment, materials, structures or other physical elements of a worker’s environment.

Yordy said most injuries occurring from either unsafe acts or unsafe conditions can be avoided when the proper protection is in place. 

A prominent unsafe act is a “struck by” injury to the eyes, mainly due to workers leaving their safety glasses in their pocket or resting them atop their head for fear of the lenses fogging up. Contributing to unsafe acts are a lack of adequate training, improper work practices and a poor work attitude.

Unsafe conditions include poor housekeeping, a lack of machine guarding, poor equipment maintenance, slip-and-fall hazards, improper material storage and defective equipment or tools.

Yordy said the young worker who had severely burned his hand and arm wasn’t wearing safety gloves and had neglected to wear them for six weeks. The lead driller on the job site and part of the crew were subsequently fired for failing to enforce the wearing of proper protective gear.

“They were playing Russian roulette and the chamber finally filled and somebody got hurt.”

An injury leading to the amputation of a worker’s limb is perhaps the most expensive setback that can occur. The direct cost to a company can be about $126,000 plus an indirect cost of about $139,000. But the indirect additional sale can elevate the total cost to a whopping $1.7 million.

Loss of an eye, fractures, crushes and burns account for the next most costly workplace injuries.

Overexertion among workers can also be expensive. The overexertion of muscles leads to time-loss injuries and is usually the result of exceeding the body’s limits when lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling and handling heavy loads. Overexertion can result in torn or stretched muscles, tendons and ligaments.

“How can we have a strong individual by the end of the week if we’re overexerting ourselves? We have to start thinking about our ergonomics and how we’re going to treat our body.”

Drilling during the winter season increases the risk of injuries caused by twisting, bending and turning because of the bulkiness of cold-weather clothing and their restrictiveness. 

During the summer months, heat stroke is a major concern and can lead to brain damage or death if it’s not treated promptly and properly. Warning signs of heat stroke include a rapid pulse, the victim ceasing to sweat, possible mental confusion, decreased alertness, blurred judgment and hot, red skin.

Yordy said he has seen a rise in heat-related setbacks in recent years.

Confined space concerns
When working in confined spaces, there is a potential for suffocation, making an air quality monitor essential equipment.

Prior to working in a confined space, especially in a rural setting, Yordy said it’s best to reach out to local responders to see if they have a confined space rescue team.

“Make sure you know your rescue plan and make sure you have an air quality monitor and understand your percentage oxygen.”

Yordy defined a confined space as something large enough for a person to fit into, but not a place meant for the long term. It’s a pit that has limited or restricted means for entry and exit.

In 2022, there were several fatalities in the United States associated with confined spaces, and in several situations more than one employee lost his life while trying to save a colleague.

Trench collapses claimed the lives of 39 workers in the United States in 2022, including 22 alone in the month of June. Protective systems for trenches deeper than five feet are required, and soils and other materials must be kept at least two feet from a trench’s edge.

Trenches must also be inspected by a knowledgeable person and be free of any standing water and atmospheric hazards. A safe means for workers to enter and leave the trench must be arranged.

Cave-ins are the greatest risk, Yordy said, but other hazards include asphyxiation from a lack of oxygen, the inhalation of toxic materials, the potential collapse of an excavation if machinery is moved too close to the edge, the accidental severing of underground utility lines, and fire.

Knowledge of soil types allows a better understanding of stability. Soils composed of clay, silty clay, clay loam or sandy clay are more cohesive and offer the most stability. Soils composed of silt, silty loam, sandy loam and granular cohesive solids, including angular gravel or crushed rock, rank second best. The least stable soil is composed of granular soils, including sand, gravel, loamy sand, submerged soil and rock.

Stable rock is a natural solid mineral that can be excavated with vertical sides, and which remains intact while exposed.

Yordy said that although the means are present to protect a worker’s physical health, one’s mental health must get equal consideration. 

“We have this stigma that we’re a rough and tough industry,” he said, but noted the suicide rate in construction is about 53.3 out of 100,000. 

Among male construction workers, 2.5 per cent report suicidal thoughts while other statistics include:

30 per cent of construction workers report regular psychological distress

8.9 per cent of construction workers have a mood-affecting condition such as depression

Workers stand to be physically injured if there are distractions affecting their mental health. Among the most common distractions workers deal with include money issues, relationships and weather. 


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