I sit through many meetings in which safety is discussed. The topics to improve safety often cover metrics, implementation of new programs, management interactions … and the list goes on. With all the discussion to improve safety, it is still surprising to hear about the number of hand injuries that occur on site.

The industry has come a long way with hand safety. Mines and drilling contractors are continuously looking for ways to improve safety on site by reducing the number of pinch points on a drill site when handling rods.

Manufacturers are working on rod handling solutions. These range from manual tools to mechanical advances of equipment to improved technology, such as sensors and lasers. But, as I visit drill sites around the globe, I rarely see consistency in safety methods from region to region.

The inconsistency raises the question of why, with all the advancements, aren’t more safety practices being implemented? How many of these technologies are actually being used? Is there a lack of awareness? Are they too costly to implement? Let’s dig into the rod handling solutions available in the market today and weigh their benefits against the true cost of not using consistent hand safety.

Hand injuries are the most common injury in the drilling industry, so limiting the handling of the tooling is key to lowering the injury rates. The Boart Longyear split tube loader and the rod lifter are small solutions to big problems. Both of these products help keep drillers’ hands away from pinch points and sharp edges.

The patent-pending rod lifter is a manual hand tool that ergonomically keeps the wrist and hand in a position that eliminates strain. This tool removes fingers from pinch points and sharp surfaces, allowing for proper lifting of rods without pipe slippage or damaged threads.

Split tubes often become sharp and contain metal burrs, which often cause hand lacerations and injuries, even through protective gloves. The patented split tube loader keeps drillers’ fingers away from sharp edges. One tool fits multiple split tube diameters.

More recently, I observed the use of a tool called the Slide Sledge. This multi-head hammer reduces risks related to swinging and the impact of a traditional hammer. This tool comes with a variety of tips to allow for precise application of directed force to the work piece.

From an equipment standpoint, the drilling industry has been pushing for hands-free drilling and removing the worker from harm’s way. Automation and remote controls are the main avenues in equipment innovation. Boart Longyear has developed components to distance the drillers from the rigs, such as rod handlers and remote control stations.

Automated rod handling is the latest technology being implemented on drilling equipment and sites around the world. This solution comes in a variety of configurations to retrofit existing and new drilling equipment used on sites today. Many manufacturers, such as Boart Longyear, Atelier Val d’Or and Duralite have rod handling solutions for the equipment they manufacture. Many other companies build custom solutions to fit equipment needs.

Advancements in technology need to continue to eventually eliminate hands on the rods on drill sites without reducing productivity. While the industry has moved to automation on the mine site, automation on the drill site still needs development.

I am confident that the technology will continue to evolve to minimize the safety risks on the jobsite. However, the safety culture and awareness has the potential to adapt more quickly. With many safety standards already in practice today, it is important to raise awareness across the globe from drill site to drill site.

With proper ongoing development and training safety programs, hand safety issues can be reduced without any new advancement in technology. This is the most cost-effective solution to improved safety.

By granting all employees stop-work authority, Boart Longyear has developed a self-empowered workforce that provides transparent accident and incident reporting. Additionally, we ensure our drillers are properly trained prior to assignment on a rig. While on site, each employee has a field guide to reference and guide them through a risk analysis process.

Most recently, Boart Longyear has elevated the importance of safety through a program called “Make It Personal.” All employees are encouraged to carry around a photo of family, a significant other or something that is important to them as a reminder that safety is not just a number, but that there is a reason it is a top priority.

“Safety first” should be the core value of drilling companies that will ultimately deliver a more productive drill site and results for the client. New training programs, standards and global management systems will continue to bring safety to the forefront.

More awareness of hand safety and safety in general will bring more consistency to drill sites around the world. The proper mix of advanced technology and improved practices will accomplish the number one goal for everyone — sending employees home safely.  ND

Monika Portman is director of product management for Boart Longyear. Contact her at monika.portman@boartlongyear.com. For more Tech Topics columns, visit www.thedriller.com/techtopics.