Drilling hazards contribute to numerous serious worker injuries and unfortunately can result in fatalities. Between 1992 and 2000, 21 fatalities occurred from water well drilling incidents with 19 being caused by electrical hazards. The average cost of a worker injury to drilling crew members as reported by the Bureau of Labor is $37,000, including direct and indirect costs. Not only do injuries affect the individual worker and their family, but it can be devastating to the company’s financial health.
Having a health and safety plan in place before any new project or task is undertaken is an important first step in keeping workers safe on the job. As the heart of a health and safety plan is recognition of potential risks and recommendations for controlling those risks, health and safety plans don’t stop at the front door. Before any field work is initiated, a site specific health and safety plan should be created.
What’s different about a work-site plan?
The content of a site-specific plan for an off-premises worksite is similar to the health and safety plan developed for any facility but also has unique characteristics just as each field site’s hazards will be unique. For instance, a field-site health and safety plan should have a requirement to locate power lines and buried utilities. Additionally, it should contain directions to the nearest hospital, and a contingency plan because the distance to that hospital might impact how much first aid training the site team would require. The plan would also adjust for the vagaries of each site’s topography, soil and geological conditions. Other environmental concerns assessed and addressed might involve climate, insects or even snakes. These factors will be part of the quantitative assessment of the health and safety risks the workers will be exposed to at each site.
The qualitative assessment of a work site’s hazards would include evaluating issues such as ergonomic stress, weather conditions, personal protective equipment, location and surroundings or the presence of contaminants. In the qualitative assessment, the health and safety plan drills down to specific hazards and the level of risk each presents.
After a number of these site plans have been developed, it is possible to build a generic health and safety site plan that can be modified with specific assessments. Workers can use the heath and safety plan as guidance during toolbox safety meetings. Perhaps, a different aspect of the health and safety plan can be reviewed and discussed at each shift change. Assigning different members of the field team to lead the safety reviews is great re-enforcement.
Be specific in identifying all risks, take nothing for granted and remember, you can never repeat basic safety procedures too often, even something as fundamental as not driving with the boom raised. For example, there was an instance of a worker who was severely injured working around the rotating auger. The worker tried to kick dirt out of the auger, his pant cuff got caught and the worker lost his leg. Of course the worker knew better, but accidents can happen so quickly, all it takes is a momentary lapse of recognition. Here are examples of issues that might be included in your hazard analysis for the work site.
- Rotating drill augers and other movable equipment
- Rotating cathead
- Electrical hazards
- Underground and overhead utilities
- Adjacent structures
- Noise level
- Chemical hazards
- Biological hazards; snake bites, ticks, poisonous plants
- Loose fitting clothing
- Correct gloves for the task
- Physical hazards
- Operating in inclement weather
- Vehicle operation
- Trip and fall
Once the site’s specific hazards have been analyzed, it must be determined which risks really need to be addressed. This involves assigning a risk value to each hazard. Some are basic. For instance does the level of noise hazard require hearing PPE? Have steel-toed boots been mandated because of the heavy equipment in use? Some are more complex. Does the risk of abrasions or skin contact call for a specific type of glove? Will these be the same gloves used for soil sampling in wet conditions? The leather gloves selected to prevent abrasions might not be impermeable to moisture. For many years, ergonomic hazards were not even addressed in health and safety plans. As drillers know, backs, shoulders and necks are particularly vulnerable to stress in the water well drilling field.
In this part of the health and safety plan, procedures will be recommended and responsibilities will be designated. For instance, who is in charge of controlling the site if it’s in a public area? Who makes the determination that the rig should be shut down because of hazardous weather and how is that weather determined to be hazardous to the workers? Some of these procedures may be based on how to avoid previously identified hazards. Hazard control at an off-premises site may cover:
- Accident prevention awareness, like eyes on tasks and housekeeping
- Training and medical clearance for PPE (such as respirators)
- Equipment operation and maintenance
- Monitoring requirements (indicators for combustible, methane or natural gas)
- Oxygen monitoring
- Air monitoring
- Slips and falls
- Parking and other permits, reflective vests, cones, cement barriers if an urban site
- Medical surveillance
- Decontamination of personnel
- Decontamination of equipment
Although a site-specific health and safety plan is much more condensed then an on-premises plan, one example of the specifics of an off-premise plan is in the area of emergency procedures. In the event of a major fire, explosion or health emergency, first and foremost, it should be pre-determined who’s in charge and what available resources they will have on-site and what level of injury will necessitate immediate transportation by the team or what to do while waiting for emergency response. For example, if the site is remote, a level of training and equipment necessary for a degree of onsite care must be anticipated. Should there be splints, a backboard or stretcher in the first-aid kit, bandages absorbent enough for a critical bleeding injury? Will the person in charge be sufficiently trained in first aid and CPR to use the onsite equipment as well as perhaps make the call as to whether an injured worker should be transported or wait for medical help?
In addition to determining the role and responsibilities of onsite personnel, emergency procedures for the work-site specific health and safety plan will address the unique hazards posed by that specific site and should also cover:
- Chemical exposure and personal injury
- Non-life threatening personal injury
- Emergency response procedures
- Spills and releases to the environment
- Incident notification and reporting
- Notification and clearance with local response agency
- Emergency equipment maintained onsite
- Hazardous substances of concern and subsequent health issues
- Evacuation procedures
- Frequency of physiological monitoring for fit and acclimatized workers
- Levels of first aid training required for specific drilling operation
- State-mandated first aid permits and requirements
- Need for AED (in the event of electrocution or heart attack)
Each drilling operation is a unique individual event and if approached that way, worker safety becomes part of the job. At the end of the day, an effective work-site health and safety plan achieves the goal of giving the onsite team the tools that will allow them to accomplish their work without hazard to themselves or others
For more information on industrial hygiene and methods for promoting health and safety in the workplace, as well as a listing of industrial hygiene consultants, please visit the American Industrial Hygiene Association website at www.aiha.org.
Gary Ganson has 30 years experience in worker health and safety. He has worked in industry and consulting and is currently the manager of EHS for Terracon Consultants, Inc. and the office manager for one of their Kansas City, Missouri offices.