Drillers should be good listeners to know what's happening when their rigs are operating.

Neglect is often a primary factor in deaths and injuries which occur every year at drilling sites, according to Enid Drilling Systems President John L'Espoir.

"Safety is important. It is unfortunate that people will get killed this year around drill sites, often as a result of neglect by the person, neglect of the drill rig or at the drill site," L'Espoir said at the National Ground Water Association (NGWA) Convention in Las Vegas.

Speaking during a workshop titled "Can Your Rig Drill a Little Deeper?" the Holland native said drillers should always make sure a rig is in top working condition before beginning a job. "If you're going to a drill site and you know your rig is not in top condition to do the job, the time to fix it is before you get to the job site," he emphasized.

"The steel in a drill rig is designed to do a specific job and materials used in masts are designed for tension, compression, or bending. Do not use any pipe to repair a mast. Pipe is dangerous because it will stretch, pull apart, and break."

The drilling company owner added drillers should never use tools for anything other than their intended purpose. "There are no part numbers for duct tape and baling wire and a pipe wrench is not a sledge hammer," he said. "Don't use tools for the wrong intentions."

L'Espoir stressed drillers should know what potential dangers are at a prospective job site before beginning the project. "Always have someone look at the drill site and know what's in the ground, such as high-pressure gas lines, or electric lines. When you poke a steel bit in the ground with water, mud or other conductors, they can bite you badly," he said. "Overhead lines are always so dangerous. Do not raise the mast on a rig within 25 feet of a power line."

He said drilling crew personnel should never wear loose-fitting clothes and should always wear ear protection, safety glasses, gloves, and a hard hat to protect them from on-the-job injuries.

"It's also important that the drillers and the helpers know how to operate the rig, so if one of them gets tangled in the rig the other person can stop it," L'Espoir stressed.

He said drilling company owners should have regular safety briefings about drilling and drilling equipment for all company employees and new employees should be briefed before being put on the job. L'Espoir said the owner should document that the briefings have been held in case the company is sued about a safety-related issue.

"Rigs can kill you, but lawyers can kill your company," L'Espoir said.

Noting a drilling rig is a combination of a power source, a mode of mounting a mast, a drawworks, a rotating drive, and a mud pump or centrifugal pump, the Enid, Okla. businessman said the engineering behind drilling equipment is complicated, "but it is not rocket science."

While rig manufacturing has evolved and has become more complicated during the past 50 years, L'Espoir said he believes simpler is better. "When we're talking about drilling equipment, often neither the talker nor the listener knows what they're talking about. The problem is there is miscommunication or no communication," he said.

Noting drilling rigs are designed for the specific type of work a driller intends to do, L'Espoir said the rig's horsepower is based on the maximum job the driller plans to handle. He said a driller should know the continuous break horsepower of his rig's engine so it can operate at that level all day and do the job the driller wants done.

He said a driller should also know the mast's static hookload capacity on a rig.

"Maximum load or working load doesn't mean anything. The static hookload is the maximum you can hang on the rig and have the mast stay erect," he explained. "Never use more weight of drill steel than 75 percent of the hookload capacity. Hookload is based on number of lines to the block to tell you what the mast will stand."

L'Espoir said by knowing the weight of the drill string, the number of drilling collars, the drill pipe's weight and weight of other equipment, a driller can design a drill string to 75 percent of the hookload limit and determine how deep he can drill.

The drilling industry executive said drillers also should be good listeners to know what's happening when their rig is operating.

"Listen for noises when you're doing mud or air drilling. If there are any unusual noises, or unusual movements of the rig, there is usually something rubbing or binding. Stop and investigate when you hear something out of the ordinary," he concluded.