For the past few columns, I’ve talked about the direction I think the industry should head. This month, I would like to get back to the topic of safety.

There are many places our industry could and should improve. For example, think about the development of effective safety programs, and jobsite health and safety plans. These two components, if properly developed and enforced, can go a long way toward changing the culture of a company and eventually our industry. All too often, companies put rules in place for OSHA compliance, but these rules are not effectively enforced. That leaves us with the appearance of safety but no measurable change in the safety culture of our company. Fellow The Driller contributor Brock Yordy — my co-host on the Brock & Dave Drillercast — coined a term for this: a “safety façade.”

Take hard hat use, for instance. How often do we still see pictures of drill crews where one or all fail at this most basic of safety measures? The hard hat was invented over 100 years ago, hardhat use has been regulated on jobsites since the 1970s and still the attitude of many drillers is, “Those things are for wussies.” (See Brock Yordy’s July 2017 article on brain injuries, “Hard Hats Protect Our Greatest Safety Device,” for more on what can happen from even a small head impact without a hard hat.) I don’t know of one drilling company that doesn’t require hard hats on all jobsites, and yet seeing a drill crew without head protection is still commonplace.

Developing an effective health and safety program will keep us OSHA compliant, reduce the likelihood of workers being hurt and, ultimately, reduce our costs by improving our safety record, driving down insurance costs and improving the overall safety culture of our companies. In fact, a 2011 study of small employers in Ohio found that workers’ compensation claims fell dramatically after implementation of an OSHA-compliant health and safety program. The study found claims decreased 52% while the cost per claim decreased 80%. Those numbers do not even factor in the loss in productivity attributed to a worker’s loss to the company.

Work to address these seven core elements when developing a health and safety program:

  • Leadership from management, and a demonstrated commitment to improving workplace safety and health.
  • Worker involvement in all aspects of the program. They have to understand their roles when it comes to safety and communicate effectively with management when necessary.
  • Routine and frequent hazard assessments.
  • Identification and mitigation of all hazards using the OSHA hierarchy of control, as well as any necessary follow-up to determine the effectiveness of that mitigation.
  • Employee training on the specifics of the safety program and their responsibilities, as well as how to recognize workplace hazards and understand control measures implemented.
  • Periodic evaluation of all mitigations and program components for effectiveness, with the goal of improving the program’s overall safety and health performance.
  • If working for or with other contractors, planning and scheduling to identify and resolve any conflicts that could impact safety or health.

I know this list makes safety programs sound complicated, but they don’t have to be. Most crews work with the same pieces of equipment, doing a familiar job on most days. Management can begin the development of formal safety policies and show management commitment by showing up to jobsites. Dress to do site work, with all the correct PPE on. Do a hazard identification and assessment inspection with the crew during the normal workday.

For many of our contractors, management is part of the crew and only need begin development of formalized safety policies. Those policies must then be written out and the crews trained. Remember to include even the newest member of the crew during hazard evaluation and while brainstorming to come up with hazard mitigations. Jobsite analysis must be done daily, or even an additional task-based JSA could be developed for critical activity such as running large casing. Review the JSA with the crew and include time for comments and questions.

Near misses should also be reported. Near miss reporting is only effective when all employees trust that the result of reporting a near miss will be to make a job safer, and not to reprimand an employee. See my March 2019 article, “On Drilling Jobs, Tracking Near Misses is Critical,” for more information.

Be patient and just track progress in the beginning. It takes three months, on average, for someone to develop a habit.

Be patient and just track progress in the beginning. It takes three months, on average, for someone to develop a habit. We need all of our crews to develop good safety habits, which means we will have to find a way to remind them until it’s routine. Once it is routine, we should reward that behavior in some way.

On the opposite side, have a meaningful enforcement program if employees willfully ignore or break established policies or procedures. A wise man once said, “A rule without enforcement does not exist.” Enforcement can be a bit of a touchy subject during the “great resignation,” with companies struggling to attract and maintain employees. I suggest to you, however, that an employee who won’t follow your safety program would probably cost you more in the long run in potential workers comp claims and faltering crew morale.

Investigate all incidents to find the root cause. Combine these investigations with your near miss reporting and daily jobsite analyses to track safety program effectiveness.

This, of course, is a simplified, 10,000-foot view of developing a safety program. For a more information, OSHA has developed two “Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs” manuals, one for general industry and another specific to construction. The agency also has a program called Safe + Sound to encourage every workplace to have an effective safety and health program. These guides have a tremendous amount of information that can help your company and our industry advance and improve drill crew safety.

Until next month, keep turning to the right and be safe.