A water well drilling site is full of potential hazards. Most common among these hazards is electricity, which according to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries program, was the cause for 21 fatalities among water well drillers in a recent eight-year period. Nineteen of those fatalities occurred while workers were drilling and/or servicing a water pump, or when the rig contacted overhead power lines.

Owners and employees should work together to create jobsite and task-specific electrical safety guidelines. Drillers and helpers need to recognize electrical hazards as part of their job. The following electrical safety procedures should be part of any jobsite review:

1. Call your state’s one-call center to identify the location of underground public utility power lines. If you don’t know the contact information for your state’s one-call center, then you can call the Dig Safely hotline at 888-258-0808.

2. Verify the location of all buried or embedded electrical circuits, including landowner and third-party lines at the worksite.

3. Check the condition of all equipment before drilling starts. Drillers and helpers should make sure the rig’s electrical systems are working properly. Workers should check the integrity of the grounding system, internal safety mechanisms, operating voltage and the electrical wiring.

4. Locate power lines and take precautions to avoid them when erecting the mast. Accidents involving electrical cables often occur when a drill is being set up, moved or broken down. OSHA guidelines for operating heavy equipment near overhead power lines can serve as a guideline for minimum clearance when erecting drilling masts. Drilling industry guidelines recommend before raising the drill rig mast (derrick) on a site in the vicinity of power lines, walk completely around the drill rig. Determine the minimum horizontal distance from any point on the drill rig to the nearest power line when the mast is raised and/or being raised. Where it is difficult to see if the drill mast is clear of overhead objects, the driller should designate a person to observe the clearance and warn immediately if the mast approaches the limits of safety clearance. 

This article is provided through the courtesy of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. It is excerpted from the information circular, “Water Well Safety Bits,” written by Dana Reinke.