We all do things that are not safe. Sometimes we do them on purpose, and sometimes we do them without thinking.

Looking back on your life, were there instances where you were almost killed or almost seriously injured? Have a close call? A few issues ago, columnist Dave Bowers wrote about these and how they can lead to disaster. (See “On Drilling Jobs, Tracking Near Misses is Critical” in National Driller’s March 2019 Issue.) Safety experts talk about the need to track these as an early warning system. That’s a good idea, but let us not forget that many — maybe most — are not reported. After all, telling your boss you did something stupid does not seem like a great idea for future employment.

How many have you had? Unfortunately, I have so many that I rival any one of our 18 cats. 

Here are two examples from my life.

I had a summer job traveling around the Northeast cleaning those large gasoline and oil storage tanks in those tank “farms.” I was directing our truck, angling backwards to get close to a large water tank. When the driver got to within 2 feet, I waved him off, and the truck stopped and shut down. I picked up an item from the ground and started to walk between the truck and the tank. At the last second, I saw the brake light was still on and stopped. Just then, the driver, who had been looking at some paperwork, took his foot off the brake and the truck drifted back another foot and a half. I would have been crushed had I not noted that lit brake light.

I did two stupid things. The first? I should never have even thought about going between the truck and the tank. The other? I failed to ensure the truck was finally stopped with the parking brake engaged.

This second story is so stupid, you will think it isn’t true. But it is.

It was my first year at work. We were cleaning out a section of a building that used to house a trepanning machine. A trepanning machine can put a hole lengthwise through a 31-foot-long solid bar of steel like a drill collar. It was run by direct current. We were putting in a racking system to store the tubes we used to make drill pipe.

Our work was blocked by a lot of the old wiring. The plant manager told me to climb up on the tube bundle, and he handed me a hacksaw. He told me that the larger electric cables were from the old DC converter taken out years ago. He had been there for years, so I trusted him. In reality, these electric cables were live 440-volt three-phase. I started sawing but the saw would bind in the cable’s insulation. One of the guys helping jumped up and started to bend the cable to alleviate the binding. Sparks flew! Let me tell you, it took a nanosecond for me to drop that saw.

Where to begin on the mistakes made here? Old buildings with old wiring. We should have called in the electrician to mark lines and identify the old DC lines. He could have removed them, or marked the live lines and disconnected them since they were not being used. Don’t rely on anyone; look for yourself. Follow lockout procedures.

How safe is your company? Regardless of your company’s safety policies or record, it is important for crews to stay observant.

There were signs that I needed to be careful and act my own safety advocate. I got to know one machinist — an older gent — who had lost an eye in one accident and almost had one arm ripped off in another accident. Flying chips and those nasty steel stringers are dangerous when operating a lathe in a machine shop. Rotating equipment is dangerous, whether in agriculture or the drilling industry. Bad accidents happen.

Looking back at my time in shop management, one of my failures was not taking safety as seriously as I should have. I should have appointed a safety manager. Had more safety meetings. We had some injuries beyond cuts and Band-Aids. Maybe they could have been avoided.

Once we were loading drill pipe on a flat bed. It was bundled in lots of five. Believe it when I tell you that these bundles can roll. One rolled off the truck and fell onto my good friend who was walking by. Someone called the ambulance, but I had to call his wife. After a couple of weeks, he was back on the job on limited service. He was hurting but I helped ease the pain by taking him deer hunting. He stood while I chased deer. Success! Yet, in the previous weeks, I almost lost a friend.

We made metal stakes and a new rule to put them in the pockets on both sides of the flat bed during all loading. (Heck, maybe it had been a regulation all along, but we were unaware.) We did not remove them until the load was all tied down. 

Have an accident? Do what can be done to make sure there isn’t a repeat.

As an owner, manager or supervisor, the absolute best thing you can do to promote safety is to show that you care about safety. Show that safety is above cost, above getting out that rush job. The first time you condone or do an unsafe act, your believability on safety is lost and you put the crew at risk.

I once had to provide witness in an injury case where a customer had been injured while using one of our products. In an instant, a man’s use of his hand was almost lost. I read the description of the accident. It sounded like our product was used in a manner in which it was not recommended.

It was a casing-handling tool with swivel eye. It was designed and marketed as able to handle one piece of casing. Were the crew on the rig aware of this? They would handle a string of casing with it. Did my salesperson fully explain it? Was the “warning” on the packing list? If it was, how likely was it the men on the rig ever saw that packing list? Do you know the limitations of the tools you use? Should we assume that if the rig has a 20,000-pound hoist that lifting tools are rated at least at 20,000 pounds?

Then I saw photos of the broken casing lifter. First, we had changed the designed over 10 years earlier. Second, it was all beat up. The “eye” had bent, weakening the device. Had we inspected our tools? 

I do not know how the case was resolved. It was up to our insurance company. 

Safety needs to flow from all levels: manufacturer to buyer to user. In my story, there were many potential failures. As users, we must advocate for our own safety. We cannot assume that, if someone gives us a tool or task, it is safe. You know what they say, “When you make an assumption, you make an ass of you and umption.” (Thank you, Samuel L. Jackson.)

OSHA has rules, your state has rules, your company has rules, your equipment and tools have warnings. There are safety manuals and safety meetings. There is safety gear, from glasses to gloves to harnesses. There are workplace safety audits and inspections. The absolute best tool for your safety is you. So be informed and be observant and, at the end of the day, make sure that you go home to your family.