People often use the beginning of the year to commit to change something about themselves or their behavior. They do this to make a positive difference in their lives. Some resolve to lose weight. Others begin going to the gym. Still others choose to stop a habit or activity they’ve deemed self-destructive, such as smoking or drinking. I write this article in the spirit of that last category.
Too often, I hear of or see on social media people in our industry doing unprofessional or just plain unsafe acts. I’m not talking about an unseen or unnoticed risk. I’m talking about actions where clearly, if those involved took just a moment to think things through, they would make a different choice. I’m talking about unsafe acts.
An unsafe act is defined as:
As a driller, you have the knowledge required to identify the safest course of action to mitigate any unsafe condition. If you choose to ignore the condition — take a shortcut to speed up or make a job easier — you or one of your crewmembers could be hurt or killed.
When an individual has both knowledge and control of an existing unsafe condition or action, but chooses to perform the action anyway or ignore the condition.
Drillers generally perform unsafe acts in an effort to save time, effort or both. About 80% of injuries and deaths in the drilling industry stem from human error. As a driller, you have the knowledge required to identify the safest course of action to mitigate any unsafe condition. If you choose to ignore the condition — take a shortcut to speed up or make a job easier — you or one of your crewmembers could be hurt or killed. You and your company could have liability when it comes to injuries or fatalities that occur due to your actions.
I recently learned of an incident where a driller’s assistant attempted to clean up antifreeze spilled on the block of the running engine on a solids control unit. As he wiped away the antifreeze with a rag, the rag tangled in the drive belt. He yanked his hand away, but it made contact with the cooling fan. He suffered multiple contusions and a finger broken badly enough that it required surgery and a pin to reset.
The remediation for this injury was easy: take a moment, shut down the engine, clean up the antifreeze, restart the engine and continue with your day. What did the lack of judgment cost instead?
- A loss of wages for at least a six weeks for the employee
- A decrease in production for the drill crew
- A possible increase in workers’ comp premiums for the company
- An increase in the contractor’s “experience modification rating” (EMR) score that could bar them from bidding certain projects in the future
All of this resulted from a relatively minor injury that could have been worse but, thankfully, was not.
The number of hazards drillers, as a profession, encounter during an average day can far exceed other types of construction work. Think of all the possible things your drill crews could be asked to do in one day. They could drill and set casing. They could enter a well house (potentially requiring a permit for confined space). They could run water lines using an excavator. Think about it. Statistically, excavation and confined spaces are the most dangerous types of work in the United States — and that’s just what we ask crews to do when not drilling.
The water well industry faces all of these hazards at work, but that doesn’t mean we’re powerless. We have to take hazards and mitigate them down to an acceptable risk level. That requires meaningful hazard identification and task planning.
If we all take the time to slow down and think, maybe in 2023 we won’t hear of anyone raising a tower into high-power lines, buried in a trench, suffocated in a confined space or who lost fingers or hands in a drill table.
I wrote this article after seeing a post on social media about a crew trying to set surface casing. They encountered a rock sticking out of the sidewall of the borehole. The rock prevented the proper centering of their casing. Their solution? They shined a light down the borehole and fired a handgun at the rock. Is this the level of professionalism we want for our industry? Regulators, engineers and our peers should look to us as groundwater professionals. Besides, had they done a good job drilling in the first place, the rock would not have been there.
Until next month, keep turning to the right.