The other day, going through my notifications on social media I ran across a photo of a young driller on the step of a drill rig. “At the controls,” the post read, seemingly a rite of passage for this young man, which should be a feel-good for everyone in the industry. We all remember the first job where we were blessed enough to run a rig for the first time, or the first time we took responsibility for getting the bore completed and returning safely to the shop victorious. This was the intent of the person who posted the picture, I believe. However, that was not the message the picture told.

The picture showed a young person being taught to ignore the hazards our chosen profession presents us with every day. The young man sat on a lawn chair on the step of the rig (a failing) with no hard hat, gloves or eye protection, with a cell phone in hand. Now I don’t know if this photo was taken as a lark or not, but some of the comments were telling. Many of the drillers who responded commented about the type of seat they’ve rigged up to sit in while running the controls of their drill. I found this concerning. I believe you should never sit while running the controls of a drill rig. However, it seems many drillers consider a seat mounted on the step an asset that provides them with a more rested day — thereby making their focus sharper. Although this seems like common sense, research shows otherwise. A psychological study published in 2017 found just the opposite: Standing enhances our attention and cognitive control.

As I have written in earlier articles, attention and situational awareness are extremely important in our industry. We should do everything we can to improve situational awareness, which will in turn improve safety. To that end, we must all ask ourselves whether the manufacturers include a seat for the driller when designing the equipment. The overwhelmingly common answer is, no they don’t. Everyone who is using a seat mounted on the driller platform has modified the rig to accept their seat of their choice. The reason manufacturers do not include the seat is the liability the manufacturer could incur if the driller could not move off the seat quickly enough in the event of an accident.

I’ve heard the argument from some drillers that you can move off the step when seated as quickly as you can move off the step when standing. At the same time, I’ve attended industry events and seen the age and physical fitness of many of those working in our industry. We’re not all top-notch athletes — myself included. I know that it takes me a moment to get to a standing position from a seated position. What could happen in that period? A rod could fall, a hose could blow, a winch line could break or a thousand other things — all while I’m in the danger zone and possibly unable to avoid injury or death.

So what message are we sending to future drillers? We are sending the message that we don’t care about their safety and health, and teaching them they shouldn’t care either.

We have a choice to make as professional drillers. Are we going to be mentors to the next generation? Will we teach them how to properly set up a job, drill, set and develop a well, obtain representative samples and all the other things drilling and groundwater professionals do? Will we show them how to finish a career with all our digits and limbs intact, able to retire and enjoy the fruits of their labor to an old age? Or are we going to treat them as an expendable commodity?

Our industry needs to do a better job embracing safety if we ever want to be taken as seriously as, say, a civil engineering construction company, or even the oil and gas sector.

One of the most common complaints in the drilling industry today is that we can’t get good help. So why would we treat the help that we have in a way that will not maximize their productivity over the long term? Teaching a new driller to be safe and efficient requires that we do all of the right things ourselves. One of the most important concepts of a safety culture is management buy-in. If you’re the driller on the job teaching the new guy, you become their management. “Do as I say, not as I do” has rarely worked for any parent or manager.

Thankfully, just as many comments on that photo took umbrage with the safety aspects as wondered what type of seat they should use. I firmly believe our industry needs to do a better job embracing safety if we ever want to be taken as seriously as, say, a civil engineering construction company, or even the oil and gas sector. Much of our industry provides the most precious resource on Earth. Let’s strive to make sure our professionalism matches the importance of our resource.

Sorry this month was a little preachy. Hopefully, next month we can have a little more fun. Stay safe and keep turning to the right.