Rig Safety and Maintenance 101

Following a regular safety and maintenance schedule is critical to keeping accidents down.

By William Wagner

How vital is rig safety and maintenance? Eric Hajek, president of Terra Testing Inc. in Washington, Pennsylvania, sums it up succinctly: “We want a guy to come back the same way he went to work.”

There can be no more basic—and important—goal than that.

Going over a daily inspection form when a rig arrives at a jobsite is a good safety step as it ensures all critical items are being looked at on a regular basis.

And what happens when safety and maintenance aren’t top of mind for drilling companies? For the answer to that one, we turn to Rob Caho of Geoprobe Systems in Minnetrista, Minnesota: “The consequences can range from costing you tons of money for repairs to injuries and even death.”

Drilling rigs are complex pieces of machinery that require an ever-vigilant eye. They’re also hefty financial investments.
And safe practices and habits on the jobsite have to be viewed as a key to getting a return on those investments.

“A well-maintained rig is a safe rig, and that’s what’s going to make you money,” says Caho, who served on the National Ground Water Association’s Safety Committee from 2012-2015. “If you have a rig where the maintenance isn’t taken care of, it’s going to cost the company a lot of money in the long run. These rigs are not cheap. The smaller rigs are about $200,000 and they go up to $1 million or more. If you don’t keep up with the maintenance, they don’t last very long.”

Here, then, are some rules of thumb that will help ensure your drilling rig runs smoothly and safely.

Make sure to use a qualified person

This is job No. 1. It doesn’t matter how regular you are about maintenance if the person handling the tools doesn’t know what he’s doing. Says Caho: “You need someone who’s actually trained to do it.”

From what Caho has seen, that’s easier said than done these days.

“One of the bigger problems is that a lot of the younger contractors aren’t used to doing maintenance,” Caho notes. “When I do my Rig Safety 101 talks (to various companies), I literally have to go through all the tooling. I had automotive training in high school; I was a certified mechanic at 16. You don’t hear about that in high schools anymore. Most of (these younger contractors) have never even changed the oil in a

“Companies are finding out that they have to do more and more training just to show employees about tools for basic maintenance. The days of handing someone a tire gauge and asking them to take the tire pressure are a thing of the past.”

Stay on top of the emergency shutdown systems

If you’re maintaining your rig properly, this should be a regular part of your routine.

“Those should be checked every day, or even throughout the day, to make sure they’re working properly,” Hajek advises.
“You want to prevent any types of accidents or entanglements. Another thing is to notify the engineers working with the crew to make sure they know where the safety systems are and are familiar with them.”

Caho, who serves as chair of the NGWA Manufacturers Section Board of Directors, concurs: “Make sure the stop switches are checked daily,” he says. “If they’re not working correctly, replace them. Do not drill without them functioning properly. We see it every day: A guy says, ‘I just need to get done with this well (before checking the switches).’ I’ll go back a month later, and the switch hasn’t been fixed.”

Get Safety Products in NGWA Bookstore
 An assortment of products from NGWA are available for
you to consider so you can stay safe at the jobsite. They include a set of sheets with details so you can conduct weekly safety meetings and a CD that provides a complete safety program manual for firms working in the groundwater industry. Click here to learn more.

Have a checklist

A checklist creates a sense of organization and accountability on the jobsite.

“I’m a big believer in a daily inspection form that has been made up by the company,” Caho admits. “Almost every [rig] manufacturer has them, too. Having some type of form that is filled out and signed keeps people involved. Recordkeeping is very important when it comes to maintenance. If you have different things that need to be addressed, someone in your company can refer back to the records.”

Hajek’s Terra Testing company follows a strict recordkeeping regimen.

“When we get onsite every day, we have a checklist,” he begins. “We go through the checklist with our engineers just so that they know what we’re doing, and then everyone signs off on it. We put [the checklist] in place to get everyone (on the same page) and to make sure (an inspection is being done) every day.”

Related to the checklist, it’s imperative you always have the owner’s manual on hand. This might seem like a given, but it’s not.

“Every rig should have the owner’s manual onsite,” Caho insists. “It shouldn’t be back at the drill office. The driller needs to have it onsite.”

Don’t blow off your safety gear

There’s a tendency to take shortcuts when it comes to wearing safety gear. Don’t do it.

Personal protective equipment can’t be viewed as an option. You always want to be dressed in a way that protects you from the inherent dangers of the job.

“Wear your PPE,” Caho cautions. “A lot of people don’t like to wear it, but you need to wear your eye protectors, hard hat, and safety shoes. PPE is very important at all times.”

Caho says onsite injuries can have far-reaching ramifications.

“They don’t just cost the company—they cost the entire industry,” he argues. “An accident on one jobsite can impact insurance ratings across the board. It really hurts our industry. Also, some of our OSHA rules will go into effect if we have more injuries.”

Be mindful of the fluids you’re using

This has become an increasingly important factor in rig maintenance.

Greasing the rig is a preventive maintenance step that saves work
down the line.

“Make sure you’re using the specific fluids that the manufacturer or your company has required,” Caho says. “The days of going to the supply store and getting a gallon of any old hydraulic fluid are gone. The fluids have a lot more synthetics now (that are specific to a particular manufacturer’s rig).”

Grease the machine

In the world of rig maintenance and safety, grease is good. And lots of it.

Greasing the rig is an “easy process that only takes 10 to 25 minutes,” Hajek says. “It’s preventive maintenance, and any time you can do preventive maintenance, it saves work down the line. We have a laminated checklist that tells where all the grease fittings are located and what should be greased daily, weekly, and monthly.”

Don’t do any maintenance to the rig while it’s running

This, of course, can turn into a major safety issue.

“Before you make any adjustments, be sure the rig is shut down properly,” Caho emphasizes. “I’ve actually had a driller get hurt really bad. He was doing something on the rig, (and someone turned something on accidentally). The driller’s arm got broken.”

Keep the rig looking professional

Appearances count in the drilling industry. If your drilling rig doesn’t look spiffy, you’ll give the impression that you run a slipshod operation. Success really can come down to the little things, and a clean, professional look is one of those important things.

“When we come back from a project, we pressure-wash the drill so that it’s clean when it goes out to the next site,” Hajek says. “You want to make sure your rig looks good.”

Give the rig’s components regular care

This applies across the board, from oil to stop switches to cables. As Hajek concludes: “Basically, anything that’s being used on a daily basis needs to be checked on a daily basis.”


A final word of warning, courtesy of Hajek, that anyone who’s spent time on a jobsite most likely already knows:

“No matter what you do in terms of rig maintenance and safety, there’s always something that surprises you.”

The key is to keep those surprises to a minimum.

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 william.wagner7@gmail.com.