This month, The Driller writer and drill trainer Brock Yordy talks about risk. He asks readers to reconsider whether everyday tasks might pose bigger risks than we imagine because, as we get used to a baseline level of risk, we just “feel safe” — a feeling Yordy calls a facade.
As someone who doesn’t run heavy equipment, I would have a different level of comfort near the business end of a rig than most of our readers. That’s Yordy’s point, though: Folks used to working in high-risk situations are, well, used to it. That’s natural. We adapt to situations in order to get the work that needs doing done. But that adaptation can also blind us to the same risks we’re trying to work with.
Many years ago, I went to camp as a Boy Scout, just as thousands do each summer. We did fun activities like canoeing and capture the flag. But, as Scouts do, we also learned practical skills. I spent a lot of time that summer trying to earn my Totin’ Chip badge for woodcarving. As I recall, we got a little paper card to signify our learner status with a whittling knife. Every time we cut or nicked ourselves, the instructor would remove a corner from the card. If we could make it through the learning period with at least one of four corners intact, we’d earn the badge.
Simple enough, right? Well, dear reader, I can tell you how crushed I felt — fingers full of Band-Aids — to hold a cornerless card. I never did earn that badge.
Fast forward 10 years, and I wielded an 8-inch chef’s knife like a boss as a line and prep cook working through college. In maybe six or seven years, I think I cut myself once. What changed? Training, of course, and with it a growth in confidence with the tool and comfort with the risk it poses. The risk hadn’t gone away. I could still draw blood if I wasn’t careful. Yet I had managed to adapt to that risk to get the job done.
Readers, of course, can draw stark lines between a simple chef’s knife and something as complex (and orders of magnitude more dangerous) as a modern drill rig. Every tool, however, shares a few qualities: Each serves the intended purpose when used as expected and designed, but can prove dangerous outside those parameters. I’m pretty good using knives to dissemble everything from veggies to chicken. Juggling with those same knives would be a different story.
Heavy construction equipment has usage parameters like any other tool. Manufacturers design rigs with specific push and pull limits. Drillers know what can happen when they blow past those limits. Crew supervisors expect their teams to use the PPE required by the type of work or project. Drillers know what can happen when they don’t.
Not every drilling job requires the same level of protective equipment. But often, I think, contractors “feel safe” due to familiarity with the risk they work with every day and skip basics like ear plugs and, yes, even hard hats. That facade of safety can prove dangerous.
I know that I’d want all the PPE and more if I ran heavy equipment. (Of course, I’d wonder why the helmet from this suit of armor obscures so much of my vision.) It’s not practical — or necessary — to wear every scrap of PPE on every job. If you skip the basics, however, maybe it’s time to take a corner from your Drillin’ Chip card. Four near misses and no badge. You run a million-dollar piece of machinery that could rip off an arm just as well as it can rip through overburden. Don’t just “feel” safe. Act it.
What do you think? What tactics do you use to make safety more than just a feeling? Let us know. Send an email to email@example.com.
Stay safe out there, drillers.
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