In early January, as the world news reported a new virus in China, many of us paused for a moment and mentally sent good vibes to the families affected. Weeks later, as doctors confirmed the first Coronavirus case in the United States, many of us again paused to consider the possibilities of how everyday life might change in the near future. Now, just weeks after that first confirmed U.S. case, our normal business operations have shifted to abnormal conditions.

In cathodic drilling, any time you drilled near a functioning compressor station or live gas line, we consider it “abnormal operating conditions,” or AOCs. Under these conditions, regular tasks do not pose immediate threats to life or property. However, a slight deviation from the plan could cause a catastrophic event.

How do we prepare for abnormal operating conditions? We start by creating a procedure that minimizes the hazard and prepares our crews to be safe. Next, we implement that procedure by training our people. Finally, we review our procedures and continue to improve as new information arises. 

Creating a procedure for Covid-19 AOCs would be a daunting task if you created one on your own. However, it’s the 21st century, and the drilling industry is a resourceful community continually working together. The National Ground Water Association (NGWA) created a guideline for operating procedures during the Covid-19 pandemic. The effort was led by former NGWA presidents Jeff Williams, MGWC, CVCLD, this year’s McEllhiney Lecturer and vice president of Spafford & Sons Water Wells, and David Henrich, CWD/PI, CVCLD, vice president of Bergerson-Caswell Inc.

As Williams established his company’s Covid-19 procedures, he reached out to industry peers online to discuss plans and implementation. Given the impact the virus has had on this industry, we spoke with Williams to clarify what best practices contractors should observe to keep both customers and crews as safe as possible. Our conversation here is edited for space and clarity.

Q: Jeff, within a couple of days of the spiking, confirmed cases of Covid-19 you created a procedure. How did you do it? 

A: I was very concerned with immediate service. I did not want to expose my company to someone who is sick and quarantine my whole company for 14 days. I did not want my crews to feel uncomfortable in this situation. I refuse to be the company that could take this virus into someone’s home who has an impaired immune system, and end up with that person not with us from exposure to the virus. How, as a company owner, would you live with yourself if you knew you were the cause? That’s why we have to be responsible and step it up, and I identified that we needed a procedure to keep my people safe and my customers safe. I started collaborating with a couple of my colleagues, a friend that owns a retail shop in Vermont, and Dave Henrich at Bergerson-Caswell Inc., and we came up with a plan.

Q: What is that plan? 

A: We start by isolating our crews. Two-person crews confined to one vehicle. That way, we aren’t playing musical cars. Then I went further by separating the teams to their own bays in the shop. Next, I closed our office: no walk-in traffic, no one from the outside comes into the office. We put up signs explaining why the offices are locked. We need isolation so that we can continue to operate because we need to be able to fix people’s water systems. As a business, we have to do our best not to be hindered by this virus because our workload hasn’t changed. 

Q: You created a plan so that you could continue to work? 

A: Yes. Our company’s survival depends on a good plan. I started working on my company’s plan and had it in place in less than 48 hours. 

Q: Were your employees worried about being self-quarantined?

A: No. We had a plan in place, and we are reacting to the new information that comes out every day. Right now, we are doing the right thing, and if one of the team goes under quarantine, we will make sure they are taken care of. I have let my team know that we will get through this together. 

Q: Do you think this could be the new normal? 

A: We created an interim policy, but we are also creating a permanent plan to cover any type of emergency that we could encounter. With this policy framework, we can adjust and adapt. We know how we can react in times like these. We will now have an emergency health and safety action plan that we can activate when needed, make changes when needed, and take care of our people and customers. 

Q: We know water is critical to cleanliness in this viral situation; what advice do you give other companies? 

A: You’ve got to be thinking forward; we must plan and be strategic. As we are strategic, we also must be good stewards of the environment. Water systems will need to be serviced, and with a suitable procedure, you can mitigate risk. 

Q: How do we get the drilling industry to mitigate risk when many drillers laugh at safety? 

A: I am glad you brought that up. As we talked about Covid-19 on the drillers’ site, one driller said, “All you pansies are worried about a cold. Let’s keep this site about drilling.” That really upset me. As I thought about his comment, I realized that if that page is the wrong place to talk about good business, what is? 

Q: We need to have a page where professionals want to talk about our industry, business and doing things right. Do you have a plan for that? 

A: You know, I talked to several of my colleagues about that idea, especially right now as we have the uncertainty of possible supply shortages caused by Covid-19. So, we got on the phone with several manufacturers, and they assured us that they are stocked up and do not see an immediate issue. This topic would have been a great discussion to have on a business group page. 

Q: What are your next steps to addressing Covid-19?

A: To keep up with current information. I am going to continue to take an aggressive stance to be able to provide services to my customers. The consequences of overreacting are much less than underreacting. 

Williams and I spoke March 18, 2020. At the time, the global numbers for Covid-19 were 214,010 confirmed cases with 8,727 total deaths. As an industry where the majority can be very relaxed with safety, the abnormal operating conditions that Covid-19 has created requires men and women that will operate safely. The procedures that Williams and the NGWA have offered to all drilling companies are not only for our workforce, but also about our customers, neighbors and family, who can all be affected by operating unsafely. Below, you will find William’s plan for his drilling company, Spafford & Sons Water Wells. Please operate safely in this abnormal virus situation. 

Spafford & Sons Coronavirus/Covid-19 Protocol

In an effort to reduce exposure to outside contamination, we are instituting several protocols. Foremost among them are “Social Distancing” and “Sterilization.” Our purpose is to limit the exposure in the organization and keep our doors open. A message has been sent to our customers, outlining our commitment to them and asking for their cooperation in the effort to slow the spread of infectious disease.

If you are sick and/or exposed to Covid 19, stay home, call your doctor, and follow their advice for testing and/or self-isolation. A doctor’s note will be needed for your return to work.

If anybody in your home is sick and/or exposed to Covid 19, you are to stay home until cleared by a medical professional.

To limit shop exposure:

We will be working in two-person teams and staggering start times (see below). Each team will have their own truck/service bay and be responsible for making certain it is stocked and cleaned daily. This will begin Tuesday, March 17, 2020. The staggered start times are so each team can come in, get what they need for the day, and get on the road to jobs. If communal vehicles are used in the execution of your job, THOROUGHLY WIPE EVERYTHING DOWN (with disinfectant) before the end of your shift.

When handling inventory, please wipe down anything you are returning to the shelves thoroughly with a disinfectant.

When cleaning your truck, please wipe down door handles, steering wheel and controls; bring all refuse to the Dumpster/recycle bin. DO NOT leave it in the shop for somebody else to clean up. 

Team 1: 6:30 am Team 2: 7 am Team 3: 7:30 am
Truck: 2017 Truck: 2014 Truck: Filtration
Employee A
Employee B
Employee C
Employee D
Employee E
Employee F

Every truck was given a hand sanitizer last week. Please use it before and after every service call. Please WASH YOUR HANDS; the CDC recommends 20 seconds of sudsing and thorough rinsing.

Please use sanitizer wipes for door handles and any communal tools you use during the course of the day.

We are working on getting a sufficient supply of nitrile gloves for use when doing service in a customer’s home. 

Limited office access: 

We can communicate through the shop/office window, email, telephone and text. If you need something from the photocopier, we will work out the most efficient way (given proper social distancing) to get you what you need. Daily Service sheets and daily paperwork will be left outside in the bins currently used for timesheets.

Limiting exposure through customer contact:

Our office is screening calls for anybody who is ill, has traveled recently, and/or has a compromised immune system. Please read any notations on customer paperwork.

Restriction on unnecessary stops: 

The fewer stops made, the less chance of exposure. Please do not stop at convenience stores, hardware stores, etc. with company vehicles.

National Driller urges all contractors and crews to work safely through these challenging times. These guidelines lay out basic best practices. However, given the quickly shifting nature of the pandemic, we encourage drillers to check with the Centers for Disease Control,, and NGWA,, for the latest on how it affects our industry.

Make a Plan for Covid-19

For more information about protecting crews from COVID-19, check out these resources from NGWA.