Safety meetings: Everyone has them and almost everyone dreads them, but they are a staple of safe jobsite. Whether they are given daily or weekly, by a driller, owner or foreman, the person giving the talk never looks forward to it and the crew just want to get their day started. 

Having experienced both sides of this dynamic, I find that the best toolbox talks stem from a task- or jobsite-specific hazard analysis. These types of safety meetings are designed to get the crew talking about what hazards they see are possible in the course of their work, and then set out to define how they’re going to mitigate those hazards. This requires a little more effort on the part of the crew and alleviates boredom. This type of toolbox talk also has the added benefit of getting the crew talking about their experiences, which can boost morale and lead to increased production and safety.

I know that we are all under pressure to complete our work in as timely a manner as possible, and it is easy to let the toolbox talk slide. Drilling and pump work are inherently dangerous and require careful safety planning and procedures. Some of these can be addressed with general toolbox talks on topic such as: heat stress, cold stress, lockout, tag out, lifting ergonomics, PPE, and slips, trips and falls. Many other safety topics are not so generic. For example, the hazards of running an auger rig are similar, but not the same as, a top-head drive rig used for residential water well work. 

Most rigs have differing hazards, even if they are the same type or even model. I have a good friend who is also a very good driller who loves to tell me, “Your rig hates me.” This friend has owned and run that model in the past, but some of the things that make my rig feel right to me leave him a little unsettled. Is the rig unsafe? No. But if he was going to run my rig, I would insist on the helper being safely away during loading and unloading of the carousel. His being “unsettled” makes a mistake (and the accident it may cause) more likely. 

OSHA says employers have a duty to protect workers from injury and illness on the job by developing and implementing a safety and health program. Such a program requires:

  • Leadership buy-in
  • Management participation 
  • Employee participation 
  • Hazard analysis of the workplace or jobsite 
  • Mitigation prevention or control of the hazards 
  • Training in health and safety

A toolbox talk conducted using a jobsite safety analysis can help to meet most, or even all, of these criteria. If you are a small operation, leadership and management could be the same person. The JSA will list the hazards identified during the talk, as well as the mitigation or control of those hazards and, if properly documented, the talk is considered training in safety and health. That is not to say that toolbox talks are all you need for an effective safety and health program but, when done correctly, toolbox talks can be a large part of your program.

Many of us have worked on a job where one day the foreman gathers the crew and presents them with a month’s worth of sign-in sheets for toolbox talks never presented.

The key word in that last sentence is “correctly.” Many of us have worked on a job where one day the foreman gathers the crew and presents them with a month’s worth of sign-in sheets for toolbox talks never presented. Then, everyone gets asked to sign. This potentially puts both the company and the employees in the proverbial trick bag. The company certifies their employees as have received training that was never given. In the event of an injury, that could lead to a lawsuit or OSHA fines, or both. For employees, you are stating you received and understand the hazard identification and control covered in the toolbox talk. If you get hurt because you failed to follow the training you signed off on, the company could consider that a breach of safety protocol and gross employee misconduct — and you could be terminated. So, when the foreman comes up with that stack of toolbox talks for you to sign, just sit back and request that every talk is given before you sign them. I have a feeling you will not miss any toolbox talks after that.

Stay safe, keep healthy and have a productive summer.