As drilling professionals, we should encourage consistently safe behaviors from all drill crew members, tool pushers, foremen and even the company owner. One of the most effective ways to do this is to lead by example. When we do things in the safest way possible, we give others around us incentive to stop and think about safety in their daily tasks. This is a very easy concept on the surface, but it seems to be a much harder thing to do in the “real world.”

Why is the “real world” in quotes? Because, as far as I can tell, the “real world” is one of the most dangerous places in the universe. Often, before a driller does something they know they should probably not do, they say to their helper, “Let me show you how it’s done in the ‘real world.’ ” Sometimes, nothing bad happens and everyone walks away unscathed with undamaged equipment. Other times, something breaks or someone gets hurt because an unsafe act can get someone killed in the “real world.”

What do we teach helpers and younger drillers when we push boundaries of what is safe or correct? As a helper, I had a driller show me how to pull a stuck bit using the jacks. It looked crazy to me then. It seems crazy to me now. But he learned that from someone. Luckily, he did not have a derrick fail and hurt himself or someone else. He is out of drilling now. It was not his calling. But what if I had continued using his techniques? Maybe I would have wound up killing someone.

One of the worst things that can happen when we do something unsafe is nothing. Nothing encourages us to continue to use unsafe acts, which could become habit or commonplace. When this happens, it is only a matter of time before our luck runs out and someone gets hurt. The key is to focus on developing critical good safety habits. Habits, good or bad, allow individuals to perform routine behaviors without needing to make small decisions every step of the way. In fact, research has shown that habits make up approximately 40 percent of human behavior.

I once worked for a gentleman getting on in age. He still, however, went to the field to drill when he thought it necessary or if someone was sick. The man stressed respect for the equipment and each other, and I thought the world of him. The first time I went to a job with him I saw a safety issue no one wanted to talk about because he owned the company. We both ran auger rigs in an area know for large cobbles. Years of drilling the area had taught me the fastest way: steady, light down pressure and slow rotation just above idle. That way, you control heat and if the hole gets tight, the rig bogs down and you will not break something off in the hole.

I came around the building between his rig and mine to see his rig rocking back and forth on the jacks with the augers spinning like crazy. My response was something akin to, “What the #%&^ are you doing!” This man, who was a wizard with rotary drilling and coring rock, looked at me as if I had a second head and said, “What? This is the way I have always done it in cobbles.”

I told him I had a better way, but he was skeptical my way could work as fast. It took him a little convincing to try my way, but afterwards he asked me to make sure every driller he had trained over the years knew of the better way. I did not have the heart to tell him none of his drillers drilled like him. None of them wanted to say anything. It took the guy relatively new to the company to “correct” him.

It is not hard to recognize how habits, good or bad, influence safety behaviors. We could keep a work area tidy and free of trip hazards, or just throw things wherever is convenient and think that’s normal for a jobsite. The same holds true for training drilling habits as it does safety habits. We teach constantly with every pull of the levers. What message do we send to the helper who will be on the levers someday? We should give them the best chance to succeed. We should keep them out of the “real world,” and let them work in the safest environment possible. We should let them benefit from our experiences, good and bad. If we do, they will be productive and we may get the satisfaction of thinking, “I did that!”