You must have safety in mind for every jobsite you work.
By William Wagner
“First and foremost, we like to keep our employees empowered for safety,” says Marie Maher, regional exploration manager at Terracon Consultants Inc. in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who serves on the National Ground Water Association’s Safety Subcommittee.
“By having a safety plan in place, it holds businesses accountable to not put our folks in harm’s way. It gives our employees authority if they’re being asked to do something that’s against that policy. So, the humanitarian aspect is the first part.
“The financial impact and liability are also important. We obviously save money with the less claims and incidents we have. And by increasing our safety metrics, that opens doors to the clients we want to work for, like the Army Corps of Engineers—people that are willing to pay a premium price for safe operation, not just production. The better your safety rating, the more doors open for you.”
The National Drilling Association recommends a five-point safety plan for jobsites. It should be a bible of sorts for your team. If you need to write one—or want to fine-tune what you already have in place—here’s a good outline to follow.
1. General Rules
This is an overview that applies to virtually any job. How should your equipment be maintained and operated? How should you dress for a job? How should you conduct yourself at a site and what types of hazards should you keep an eye out for? What happens if someone gets sick or injured? These are some of the questions to consider.
Drilling water wells comes with inherent dangers, and William S. Glenn, Jr., PG, a supervisor at TriHydro Corp. in Signal Hill, California, says the key is to ensure that employees are ready to deal with whatever might come their way.
“It’s a matter of making sure your folks are prepared,” he says. “All the chemicals that are used in your line of work. Or a job safety analysis for typical tasks. If you’re a water well driller, maybe it’s mobilizing your vehicle. Basically, all the different tasks that happen at any jobs. Make the (guidelines) generic and recognize what the hazards are.”
All the workers on a site need to have a clear idea of who is responsible for what. “Have a discussion in the work plan about responsibilities, like who’s the site safety officer, who’s responsible for making calls, and who’s responsible for setting up the work area,” says Glenn, who served and once chaired NGWA’s Safety Subcommittee. “What is everyone’s role?”
2. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Regulations
Obviously, you want to be in compliance with OSHA regulations. If you’re not, it could endanger your employees and affect your financial bottom line. In this section, you should lay out the OSHA regulations that are relevant to your line of work. Among the considerations are personal protective equipment (PPE), working in confined spaces, and protocols on hazardous waste sites.
As Glenn says, this section should address issues like “If you’re working at a hazardous waste site, the type of PPE to wear. You don’t want to have your employees exposed to anything that might be coming out of the soil.”
Keep in mind that certain OSHA requirements can vary by state.
3. The Jobsite
This section can be a pullout or foldout in your general safety plan. It varies from site to site, taking into account the particulars of a given job. Says Maher, “It’s anything specific to that site. It’s where your site-specific components come into play.”
In essence, you must plan for every contingency, every unique wrinkle.
“Folks need to know what they’re getting into,” Glenn says. “Maybe you’re going into a remote area where cellphone coverage is bad. Maybe there are wild animals—snakes or big predators like bears. There are certain areas where they actually have to have a rifle with them. That gets added to the plan.
“The last thing you want when someone is injured is to be searching for who to call or where the hospital is. Also, have the site address. One of the hard things if you’re working in a remote area is how to get people to find you.”
Glenn says what he calls a “30-second scan” should be included in a job-specific safety plan.
“You should basically take a look at your area and see if things are what they should be or if something seems out of place,” he says.
“Maybe the location where you’re going to drill is a lot closer to a building than what was planned. Has the utility location been cleared? Do you have the right-sized equipment to perform your work? Are there low-lying hazards for driving? Where’s the parking? You need to be able to plan your route when you’re moving your vehicle. All that stuff should be looked at before you work.”
4. Commercial Vehicles
This, as Maher says, is “anything related to motor vehicles.” Driver safety is a critical part of every job, and the steps that should be taken on that front are outlined here.
Does your driver have a license for the type of vehicle being operated? Have the vehicles been inspected before a job begins? Might your drivers wind up in a situation where they spend too many hours behind the wheel? Is your company maintaining driver logs? Have the drivers passed drug and alcohol screenings?
Simply put, a company should have an abundance of safety precautions in place when it comes to operating all its vehicles.
5. Accident Investigations and Reporting
If you’re not scrupulous in this area, it could affect your ability to get future work. Here, you should clearly lay out the steps that should occur if there’s an accident on the jobsite.
It should explain how to put together a detailed report about an accident, including interviews from all witnesses. The report should also provide guidelines for avoiding future incidents of a similar nature.
As the National Drilling Association notes in its recommendations: “The accident investigation should be used as a learning exercise and should not be used to place blame. Statements such as ‘the employee is accident prone’ are of no value and should not be used.”
If your company can come up with and maintain a comprehensive safety plan, you’ll have peace of mind—and a viable business—in both the short and long run.
To get started in drawing up your plan, you can download a free safety plan sample from the NDA.
The National Ground Water Association also sells in its bookstore a downloadable item that can be used to set up an entire company safety program, a pocket-size book titled Employee Safety Manual, second edition, which provides helpful details and should be placed in every company vehicle, and a product with information to help lead 52 safety meetings, one for each week of the year. (See box below for more details).
“It’s important because it protects your employees,” Glenn says. “For a lot of businesses, that’s one of their main assets—having a highly trained staff that knows a specialist skill. It’s a skill that takes a couple years of training, and you want to make sure your folks are doing it right. There’s less chance of them getting hurt if they have some established guidelines, a job safety analysis. If you can look at what they’re going to do in their jobs and the potential hazards, then you can mitigate those hazards.”
William Wagner is an award-wining writer, editor, and project manager for Wagner Communications. He has written for magazines, newspapers, books, and websites. He lives in the Chicago area, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.