The drilling industry has changed a lot in the 50 years I have been involved. When I started, most of the new hires were farm boys. They came to the rig with certain skills that translated well. They knew machinery, how to drive a tractor, bale hay and dig a ditch. A lot of them knew from experience where not to put their fingers. When I was 14, a neighbor boy lost half his foot in a silage chopper. It sure made the rest of us feel a little less invincible. By the time I went on the rig, I knew that machinery could hurt a fella, and I was ultimately responsible for my own fingers and toes. I’ve still got ’em all too.

Sometimes we’d get a new guy who didn’t have this kind of background. A lot of them didn’t last long, mostly because we ran on ’em pretty hard. But some made good hands. Hard to tell.

Back to my farming/ranching analogy: When I was young, the big ranches would have a spring roundup to inoculate and brand new calves that had been born since the last roundup. When the time got close, the ranchers would put a notice in the feed store, and my cousin and I would skip school for a while and hire out. The first job was to round up the remuda that had been loose on the range for the winter. The rancher usually had some barn horses for this, and we’d use them to round up our work horses. All we had to have was our own saddles and tack. Usually, the range horses weren’t too happy about this, so we’d get them in a corral and have to semi-break them again.

By this time, the rancher had put an ad in the paper and other cowboys would hire on. The word “cowboys” is accurate, because most of us were boys. It seemed that every year, a new guy would show up. He had a new pickup, new saddle, new jeans, new boots and the idea (from movies, I guess) that being a cowboy didn’t look all that hard. You could spot him a mile away. We didn’t have too much patience with those guys, but we sure had a surefire method on finding out. When it got to his turn to ride, we’d always pick out the meanest, rangiest, orneriest horse. We’d blindfold him and snub him up to a post, and let the new guy saddle him up. Sometimes we’d have to help, which was a pretty good clue to the show that was about to begin.

After we got NG (new guy) mounted up and took the blindfold off the horse, the show was on. I don’t care what we were doing, we stopped to watch the NG ride. Four out of five lasted about two seconds, which we knew would happen. It was then that we figured out if the guy would make it. Most of them loaded their gear and headed home. We did everything we could to help the guys that got back on; they had the spirit for it. That practice stopped later, after a mean horse threw a boy and did his best to stomp him. Hurt him pretty bad, and the rancher had to shoot the horse. He dressed us down pretty well, and took the cost of the horse out of our pay.

Fast forward to the drilling industry of today. We do our best to train and keep our hands safe. In smaller companies, it’s usually a son, or nephew or friend of the family, so there is a vested interest — but still pretty informal. The practices of training and safety are a little different in the modern drilling industry, especially the oilfield. Total strangers get hired, and probably don’t have the farm-boy mentality. It is up to us to show them where not to put their fingers. The biggest and best drilling contractors have their own in-house training programs, and a new hire probably won’t go to the rig until he has been to one, or several, classes. Basic rig safety is first and, if you are a driller, CPR and first aid. Then there are other, company-specific classes, depending on what kind of drilling they are doing, like H2S (sour gas) training and the like. For safety purposes, most oilfield companies now require everyone to be clean shaven and have strict moustache rules. I’ve had a few run-ins with that one. They even have anger management classes that every driller I’ve ever worked for would have had to go through today.

Ongoing safety at the rig is now a big deal. Companies provide safety manuals that everyone has to read and sign. Most of the rigs I’ve been on for the last few years have several safety meetings a day. There is always the pre-tour meeting. These are generally pretty generic. A book is provided with the topic, and it is usually just skimmed over and signed for. When I was in charge of such things, I often took exception with the “book” way of doing things. If you went page by page through the book, you would find yourself conducting a safety meeting about frostbite in August and heat stroke in January. I just picked through the book and found something relevant to the day’s activities. It helped keep the topic fresh in everyone’s mind. Other safety meetings are held whenever the rig is starting a new operation, such as wireline, casing or cementing. There are specific hazards to each, and a good supervisor uses this time for training as well as safety. A little training at this point usually saves the amount of time it took to have the meeting, so it pays off.

I won’t mention that a lot of this is driven by insurance companies and lawyers, because the end results are generally worth it.

Be safe my friends!

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