I was on my way to a doctor’s appointment yesterday when I got a call from an apprentice driller.

“I have a few days off and my contractor suggested I come in and catch up on my requirements,” he told me.

I was taken aback. This young man had always been too busy to come in and work on his skills or complete his requirements, at least not without threats of removal from the program or an act of Congress. Although my partner and I were teaching a class of second-year apprentices at the time, I told him, “Sure, we will do what it takes to accommodate you.”

My interest was piqued. Did his contractor lose a job? Had he turned over a new leaf? That question was answered a few minutes later when his contractor called. She asked how long I thought it would take him to catch up on his requirements, because she needed him Thursday of the next week. I explained to her that only he could determine that, as proficiency testing requires him to meet a minimum standard at a given skill or drilling discipline. I know that he drills for the company when they run more than three rigs, so if he had not developed any bad habits, he should be able to catch up in the given timeframe.

He began the process of catching up by practicing some skills not used in the industry his drilling contractor primarily works. He was also able to attempt his first proficiency test. At some point in the day, I remembered to ask him why he was off.

“Rig’s down,” he said.

“What happened?” I asked.

“The mast bent,” he said.

“How?” I asked.

He went on to explain that they were abandoning a monitoring well. They went to pull the casing, and the casing began to move and then stuck. “That’s when we heard the bang. I looked up and yelled for the driller to stop.” I asked him, was the driller pulling with more than one winch? “No.” Was he attempting to use the leveling jacks? “No.” How many parts of line were you using? “One.” When was the last inspection of the rig? “Not long. The driller had just repaired some cracks he found in the lacings.” Bingo! We have the culprit. Who is repairing it this time, I asked. “We are sending it out because it is bent and twisted.” Good. It should be repaired by an AWS-certified welder who can ensure that it retains the manufacturer’s design capacity.

In the OSHA construction standard for cranes, it says modifications or additions that affect the capacity or safe operation of the equipment are prohibited, except where certain requirements are met. The first step is manufacturer approval, in writing. If that approval is refused or unavailable, you have to get a qualified engineer involved. Regardless, when the mods get done, everything needs to be meticulously documented and retain the original safety factor of the equipment.

(Readers can find the full standard here: https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3433.pdf)

I know what you are thinking. Dave, this was a repair job. Why are you talking about modification of cranes, when this is a drill rig and exempt from the crane standard? Recall that in previous articles I've written about what we can learn from other industries. I believe we can learn from the crane industry on this issue. Most drillers are not shy about modifying things if they think they can make them operate better. I know I did when I was in the field. Maybe you should make that phone call to your manufacturer, and explain to them what you intend to do and why. What better R&D is there than the drillers in the field?

I’ve welded my entire life. Shouldn’t I, because I have “extensive knowledge, training, and experience,” also be able to fit the bill as a qualified person? The answer is no.

OSHA has something to say about maintenance and repair personnel, as well. In 1926.32, it says maintenance and repair personnel must meet the definition of a “qualified” person with respect to the equipment and maintenance/repair tasks performed. What does it mean to be “qualified?” Am I qualified? Maybe the owner of the company is qualified? Is our best driller qualified? OSHA has a definition: “One who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training, and experience, has successfully demonstrated his ability to solve or resolve problems relating to the subject matter, the work, or the project.” The answer really is, we all could be qualified (and may be in one area or another). But do we have the correct degree, or in this case AWS certificate, to do this repair work? If not, we would not meet the definition of a qualified person. 

Many drillers would say, “Well, I’ve welded my entire life. Shouldn’t I, because I have ‘extensive knowledge, training, and experience,’ also be able to fit the bill as a qualified person?” The answer is no, because the manufacturers require an AWS-certified welder to build a mast. They have a structural engineer design it and X-ray the welds when they are done. Just because we’ve welded or built things for a long time, doesn’t mean we fit the requirement of “extensive knowledge, training, and experience.” 

That said, some of you reading this may well check all of these boxes and could safely do repair work on the mast of a drill rig. Remember though that the crown of the drill carries all the weight. The person who repairs it carries the liability — both fiscally and emotionally — if the worst happens. For the rest of us who may not check all those boxes, it’s best to just let that “qualified” person do what they do best.

Until next time, stay healthy, stay safe and keep turning to the right.