Ensure you and your crew’s safety as jobsites continue to require more travel time.
By Mike Price
Travelling farther distances to the jobsite has become common for today’s water well contractor.
A variety of factors over the past decades—everything from consumers hooking up to public water systems to vehicles built for more miles—have led to the industry trend of longer drive times to the wellsite.
How far one must drive depends on their location and marketplace. But regardless of the distance, safely travelling to and from the jobsite should be paramount. So too is understanding the hours of service regulations from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The water well drilling industry is not currently subject to the hours of service regulations that other drivers of commercial motor vehicles are required to follow because of the unique nature of water well drilling operations versus traditional long-haul truckers.
Instead, water well contractors are subject to the “24-hour restart” provision, which is available to drivers of the broad range of commercial motor vehicles that are being used for direct support of water well drilling operations and oil and gas wellsites. The 24-hour restart provision means that a rest period of 24 hours must follow a work period of 8 consecutive days/70 hours (see shaded box for more information).
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation may also require safety training including hours of service logs; vehicle maintenance including pre- and post-trip inspections, routine maintenance, and annual inspections; hazardous material transport; load securement; and driver fitness.
Ten-Point Safety Checklist
National Ground Water Association Past President Art Becker, MGWC, CPG, NGWAF, shares a checklist of safety precautions to consider when travelling to a job.
- Never drive if you are already tired. It’s impossible to pay attention to the road, other drivers, and your own vehicle if you are not completely alert. Pull over in a rest area and take a break or nap.
- Bring along a passenger if possible. Having another person in the vehicle will help you stay focused when driving for long periods of time. Your passenger can engage you in conversation and help you with directions. Share driving duties if possible.
- AAA (American Automobile Association) and insurance companies recommend not driving for more than two hours or 130 miles without stopping for a break. Get out of the vehicle so you can stretch and get your circulation going.
- Bring water and snacks along to keep you hydrated and your energy level up. Gum, candy, and snack bars are easy to consume. Unwrap the snacks prior to departing or when you pull over to rest. Do not let your snacks distract your driving. If you think eating a snack while driving is dangerous, don’t do it. Note: Along with not letting snacks distract your driving, do not engage in distractive driving activity on your cellphone. According to the Centers for Disease Control, nine drivers die every day and 1000 people are injured by distracted drivers in the United States.
- Turn on the radio as listening to music can help keep you alert.
- Plan your trip before you depart. Familiarize yourself with the route. Use web-based map programs or your cellphone to assist in route planning. Plan where you will stop for breaks, food, and fuel. Check the weather report for your travel route and bring any necessary
items needed for the weather and season you are travelling in. Share your route with a member of your family, an employee, or friend so someone knows your route. Use route-sharing apps, if possible, that allow someone to check your location during the trip.
- Check your vehicle thoroughly for readiness for the trip. Check all fluids and tire pressures. Make sure you have necessary safety items like a flashlight, reflectors or flares, spare tire, and equipment needed to change a tire.
- If you are driving equipment or trucks that are regulated by the federal government or state government, make certain you understand and follow all regulations for that specific vehicle. Make certain you have all required trip permits.
- Use cruise control if you have it. When driving for a long time, it is easy to exceed speed limits. Cruise control will eliminate this tendency.
- Remember and use basic driving safety skills:
• Follow all traffic regulations and speed limits.
• Be vigilant about keeping a safe distance to the vehicle in front of you.
• Adjust following distance for weather and road conditions.
• Look ahead so your eyes lead the vehicle.
• Evaluate your vehicle position to other vehicles.
• Scan your mirrors at least every 8 to 10 seconds.
• Don’t get boxed in by other vehicles.
• Constantly access traffic conditions around your vehicle and make decisions early.
Becker, president of Drilling and Safety Consultants LLC in Manahawkin, New Jersey, says the most common mistake when it comes to safe travel is that it can feel routine and be taken for granted.
“We drive a lot. You get in your car and start it and drive. You don’t really give it a lot of thought. The reality is, whether the journey is 25 miles or 250 miles, you really should give some thought to it,” he says.
According to insurance statistics, accidents occur more frequently near one’s home largely due to driving there more often and traffic congestion. This reinforces the idea that even if the day is done, it’s necessary to take stock of safe driving before starting the ignition and driving home from the shop.
Creating a Journey Management Plan
William S. Glenn Jr., PG, geologist/health and safety coordinator for Trihydro Corp. in Signal Hill, California, touts the benefits of using a journey management plan.
A journey management plan helps employees by minimizing time (so they are not potentially lost) and is a source for identifying hazards (especially if monitoring road closures due to weather). For the employer, it helps establish times the crew should be at the jobsite and a way of determining if something goes wrong by them not checking in at the beginning or end of the day.
This is important if a jobsite is in a rural area and far from the home office. Trihydro, an engineering and environmental consulting company with offices throughout the United States, is based in Laramie, Wyoming. The usefulness of the plan is less in populated areas where it’s easy to get to a phone and call in or have emergency services nearby.
A large part of the journey management plan, Glenn says, includes determining the weather of the day, notifications to the project manager, and what route will be taken to the jobsite. A deviation in the route must be communicated so that the new route is accounted for in case an emergency search is required. The plan also prepares for and alleviates worst-case scenarios.
If cellphone coverage is limited in certain areas, Trihydro uses satellite radios to issue to technicians and field staff to keep in contact.
For distant jobsites, Trihydro requests employees use a company vehicle. Each one has a monitoring global positioning system (GPS) in the vehicle and tracks drivers with assigned key fobs.
“What’s great about the in-vehicle monitoring system is that it measures speed, harsh acceleration or braking, backing up, seat belt use, measurement of idling time, and GPS to track vehicle location,” says Glenn, who serves on the NGWA Safety Subcommittee.
“It tracks these actions and gives you a monthly driving score.”
Trihydro recognizes its star drivers and features them in the company safety newsletter. It also awards star drivers with various perks.
When it comes to subcontractors working for Trihydro, Glenn says the company checks that they have a safety program and work out what is required prior to the job beginning (driver safety training, 40-hour HAZWOPER certifications on-hand, job safety analysis, safety data sheet for any chemicals on vehicles being brought to the site, etc.).
“We also have established a website where we can upload our client safety requirements and have our subcontractors log in to the website to acknowledge that they have read and understood what our client safety expectations are,” Glenn says.
“Items uploaded to the website have included quarterly safety messages, hand safety programs, Stop Work Authority videos and cards, prework safety checklists, and high hazard prevention slideshows.”
Trihydro’s company motto since 2010 is “Our safety is my responsibility”—meaning every employee is responsible for it.
Whether it’s to the jobsite or to and from home, don’t let the mundaneness of travelling lull you into thinking safety can be taken for granted. Evaluate your approach to travelling and make the necessary changes to ensure safety for you and your crew.
Mike Price is the senior editor of Water Well Journal. In addition to his WWJ responsibilities, Price contributes to the Association’s scientific publications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.