I’ve been around long enough to see some remarkable improvements in rig safety. Years ago, a decent safety program was seen as a nuisance that slowed down the job and cost the company money. It now is well understood that it saves time, saves money, and most importantly, saves lives. It’s a shame we had to be forced to this by tort lawyers and government edict, but now that training is available and widely used, the effects are very positive.

This year, I’ve had the opportunity to teach a number of courses using the IADC (International Association of Drilling Contractors) Rig Pass course. This course was developed over several years by a diverse group composed of drilling contractors, service companies, major oil companies, doctors and independent consultants. During a three-day course, CPR, first-aid and AED training also are given. This goes far beyond the old safety orientations that basically said, “Don’t put your fingers where you wouldn’t put your more sensitive parts.”

To illustrate some of the differences between then and now: In the old days, it was common for service companies to give a bottle of their favorite beverage to the company man and tool-pusher at the end of a job. Most service company salesmen carried an assorted case of spirits in the trunk of the car for distribution to customers or potential customers. Those days are over. Now, alcohol is expressly forbidden, and it’s not uncommon to search vehicles and quarters regularly. If contraband is found, the guilty party is instantly run off, and pretty much black-balled from the industry.

In the old days, it was common to ride a crew boat to offshore rigs. If the ride was long and rough, it was common practice for hands to show up to the dock roaring drunk so they could sleep away a long rough ride. Not anymore. Now when going offshore, upon a hand’s reporting to the dispatcher, a breathalyzer test is routinely given. If the level is above 0.0, boarding is not allowed.

In the old days, when a hand was hurt on location, we just sent him to town, hosed off the floor and continued. Not anymore. Now when there is any serious accident on location, everyone on location is tested for drugs and alcohol before they can leave. This includes third-party personnel – everyone. I was on a rig a few years ago, and witnessed this firsthand. About midnight one night, a floor hand jumped off the catwalk, and broke his ankle. It was unfortunate, but a pretty straightforward accident. The pusher called the sheriff, and had the location secured so that nobody could leave. He also called a mobile lab, and everybody got to pee in the cup. The irony of it was, they woke up the company man to test, and it turned out that he was too drunk to drive, let alone be on location. We got a new company man the next day. No one is immune.

This culture of safety has steadily reduced accidents, incidents and injuries. According to the IADC, reportable accidents have decreased steadily since good safety policies have been instituted and enforced. Enforcement is key. When industry-wide safety programs first came into common use, most companies would just have a new hire read the safety manual and sign off on it. Most didn’t bother to read it. Now with organized courses like Rig Pass, which more and more companies are requiring as a condition of employment, safety is engrained from day one. This has led to a steady decline in accidents, but the number will never reach zero. Ours is an industry that has inherent dangers.

To keep reducing the accident rate, operators and contractors are instituting more and more stringent rules. It seems to me, however, that some of them go overboard. For years, no self-respecting roughneck would come to work without a decent pocketknife – usually, a lock-back folder like a Buck knife. Now, a knife is no longer considered a tool; it is a weapon, and thus banned. They trust a driller with 400,000 pounds over their heads, but not a pocket knife.

I’ve been ordered off location for wearing slip-on boots. The reason? A welding spark could fall down the top and burn my foot, and I might sue somebody. Now a lot of rigs require lace up boots. My wristwatch once was banned because I could hang it up on something and tear off my arm. I use a pocket watch now.

The point is, even with the best safety programs we can devise, we can’t idiot-proof everything. Nature will create a better idiot, it seems.

On the home front, Lottie now walks 2 miles a day, and is getting a little stronger every day. Recently, on one of her walks, she found a buzzard with a broken wing. He stood in the same spot for a couple days until she felt sorry for him. Since she figured that she had plenty of experience feeding an old buzzard, a plan was made. That led to cleaning out all that freezer-burned deer meat and stuff, and feeding the buzzard. He waits beside the road, hops in the brush when she delivers the buzzard take-out, then comes out and has a good ol’ time. I don’t know if he’ll make it or not, but it is different than a hummingbird feeder. Besides, hummingbirds won’t eat carrion.