I recently completed an evaluation of several new entries into the drilling industry. As I’ve said, the most common things I have to tell a person new to drilling are, “Don't put your hand there” and “Don't stand there.” Entry-level employees often miss or simply fail to recognize many hazards that seem obvious to the experienced driller.

In our current climate, where almost all companies struggle to find and retain workers, one of the most important things we can do is keep those workers safe. I talked about hand injuries in my October 2019 article. Building on that article, I want to talk about one of the most common reasons these types of injuries occur: pinch points.

OSHA defines a pinch point as any point, other than the point of operation, at which it is possible for a part of the body to get caught between the moving parts of equipment, between moving and stationary parts of equipment, or between the material being used and moving part or parts of the equipment. We also have nip points. If equipment has rotating parts that mesh, the point at which the rotating item contacts the other item (in such a way that someone could be drawn into the machinery) is called a nip point. Drilling jobs have literally hundreds of pinch and nip points. New employees may recognize some, not others. It just takes missing one to risk severe injury.

Give new hires training on a dedicated job safety analysis (JSA), including pinch point training, led by an experienced driller, tool-pusher or craft foreperson. Doing so can go a long way toward reducing the potential for an injury among recent hires. Upon completing this jobsite analysis, the new hire should understand the following best practices for avoiding pinch point injuries.

What is a Pinch Point?

Put simply, a pinch point is a place where it’s possible for a body part to be caught. In practice, it could include:

  • Between moving machine parts.
  • Between moving and stationary machine parts.
  • Or between moving parts and materials being processed or manufactured.

Those basics come from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). In drilling, specifically, pinch and nip point hazards might include:

  • Catching fingers, hands, toes, or feet under or between heavy drill rod, casing, bits, winch drums or other equipment.
  • Slamming fingers or hands in doors or safety cages.
  • Nipping fingers or hands with hand tools like pliers or wrenches.
  • Nipping fingers or hands with equipment that has sliding parts or hinges, like tongs and elevators.
  • Nipping fingers or hands while closing a container.
  • Getting clothing or jewelry tangled in a rotating equipment.

If Equipment has a Guard, Use It

Guards on equipment are common in the industry and growing more common. This includes on things like pump drives and trip hammers, where OSHA requires guards to act as barriers between body parts and pinch points. Many tools also have guards to keep your body away from pinch points.

  • Never remove or disable a machine guard, or use a machine that has a missing or disabled guard.
  • Never reach around, under or through a guard.
  • Report guards that are missing or not working properly.

Lockout/Tagout Procedures before Repair, Service

Experienced drillers know a machine that starts or moves accidentally can trap a hand or other body part in a pinch point. Switch off equipment and do any recommended lockout/tagout procedures before repairing or servicing. Do this any time you must place hands near pinch or nip points to repair, service, unjam or adjust equipment:

  1. Turn off the machine.
  2. Properly lock and/or tag out the energy controls.
  3. Perform the needed work.
  4. Remove the lock and tag before you use the equipment.

Look for Possible Pinch Points before Starting Any Task

Conduct a JSA of the equipment you plan to use before you use it. This particularly holds true for unfamiliar equipment. Is the rig or support vehicle new to you? Look closely. Look for any places a body part could potentially get caught. Plan the each task with the goal of preventing pinch point injuries.

Lift, Carry and Place Containers, Equipment Carefully

When we lift and place heavy items — like we do dozens of times a day as drillers, we open ourselves up to pinch risks. Start by lifting the edge of a heavy item slightly before picking it up to get an idea of its weight. Heavier or awkward-to-carry items can certainly increase the risks of a slip, trapping a hand or foot in a pinch point. Use good judgement and get help handling heavy or awkward items — or use material handling equipment like a pipe-handler.

When we lift and place heavy items — like we do dozens of times a day as drillers, we open ourselves up to pinch risks.

When placing a heavy item on a deck, horses, the rig floor, etc., make sure there’s enough space so it won’t land on your feet. Move the item into place, while keeping feet and hands out of the way. Use end stops to keep tubular items like pipe or casing from rolling off dunnage or horses and landing on workers’ feet.

Give Every Drilling Task Your Full Attention

I can’t stress this enough, for either newbies or experienced drillers, but concentrate on what you’re doing. Pinch point injuries occur more often when a worker is distracted. I’ve written before about the Cooper code. Use it to determine the amount of time you can reliably perform any task with your full concentration. Don’t daydream or horseplay on a drill site.

This can all seem like a lot for new drillers (and even veterans) to keep track of. To help, I recommend that your organization institute injury prevention training into a semiannual safety training program. When my middle son was in firefighter training, his instructor carried a car antenna. I couldn't figure out what the antenna was for until I watched their live car rescue training and fire rescue training. He would touch a cadet on the hand or arm (or whatever) that they had placed in a dangerous position. Just a light touch would reinforce proper technique. As an instructor, I found this a novel approach. I can see how it would help inexperienced workers learn proper body placement during task exercise training. Of course, organizations need to develop the injury prevention training that works for them.

Drilling is a potentially dangerous job. However, with proper planning, training and hazard recognition, it can be a much safer and rewarding career for somebody just beginning in 2022.

Until next month, keep turning to the right … safely.