A healthy and safe future for the drilling industry

Jon Christie explains the core mission of the British Drilling Association’s Health and Safety Committee

Jon Christie
 Jon Christie

Jon Christie

The key purpose of the Health and Safety Committee (HSC) within the British Drilling Association (BDA) is to raise standards of health and safety within the drilling industry. To do this, the HSC is committed to ensuring that the industry is kept abreast of current legislation and regulation through effective communication, whether in the form of guidance documents, alerts, seminars or simply just to act as a point of contact.

On its way to achieving its mission, the HSC has forged active relationships with regulatory bodies such as the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), Environment Agency, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Office of Rail and Road, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and the police to form a network of knowledge sharing that benefits everyone. The HSC is also a proactive member of working groups that assist with the production and review of British, European and International standards, to ensure state-of-the-art knowledge is applied on behalf of the British Standards Institute and the European Centre for Standardisation. The HSC aligns itself with other industry bodies, such as the Association of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Specialists and the Federation of Piling Specialists; allegiances that promote health and safety best practice and understanding.

The HSC is made up of safety professionals and experienced contractors; from the largest companies in the industry to the smallest; soils drilling to rotary drilling; ground investigation to water-well drilling, and drill and blast and everything in between. It is a mix of youthful, new and modern thinkers and senior, expert and experienced practitioners, which ensures a holistic approach to improvement of the industry through the capture of knowledge and learning from years gone by to the deployment of new understanding and techniques. Each committee member is supported by their respective parent company to assist the BDA on its journey; a commitment and respect shown to the importance of the BDA. Each committee member performs their role by sacrificing their time, very often at short notice or involving protracted involvement; without this support and dedication, the HSC would not be able to operate at the influential level that it does for the industry.

The biggest challenge is the issue of creating effective two-way communication. Inevitably, because the industry is so diverse, the resources available are not always equal. The HSC strives to bridge that gap by encouraging the industry to be open with its issues, incidents and understanding. If it can create an effective facility for learning, provide a forum to discuss change and its implications, highlight incidents and the methods of prevention, promote standards and their effective application and share innovation and experiences, then it will make a difference. This, however, will only be as effective as its contributors.

It is no longer acceptable for anyone to see health and safety improvements as a commercial advantage. Equally, it is no longer acceptable for anyone to keep the circumstances of an incident ‘in-house' and to knowingly allow anyone to perform short of industry standards. Where the health and safety of the drilling industry is at stake, we must be open at all times. We cannot simply walk on by any more and the industry must ensure that its colleagues go home, at least, in the same condition that they started their shift.

Progress is being made; the HSC is developing the current understanding of cable percussion drilling, its interaction with regulation and standards, its interaction with road traffic law, and construction and use regulation. An in-depth review was carried out highlighting some issues that the BDA is well on its way to resolving in conjunction with HSE and DVSA. The HSC has produced Guidance for the Operation of Cable Percussion Rigs and Equipment and this is taken to be the industry standard; a culmination of industry good practice that is continually being updated in response to changing legislation, technology and working practices.

Developments in conspicuity of the rig are one of the simplest yet most effective modifications. The addition of safety features, such as the auxiliary winch and associated safety steel wire rope, guarding of rotating, moving and hot parts; prohibition of the use of the capstan wheel, hand-start engines and the climbing of the derrick, have all had a welcome introduction to this drilling technique.

Predominantly in the shadow of it rotary relation, cable percussion drilling is a widely utilised method for soil sampling and the BDA has taken on the challenge of ensuring the development of health and safety to allow this technique to continue to play its part in the development of the United Kingdom's infrastructure for many years to come.

The HSC has also been key in the current review, updating and compilation of the BDA's Guidance for Safe Intrusive Activities on Contaminated or Potentially Contaminated Land and SISG 4, to produce one document that is a state-of-the-art guidance document. Working alongside the HSE, the HSC has been instrumental in the current review of BS EN 16228 Drilling and Foundation Equipment Safety. This document is significant to the drilling industry and ensures that the high standards maintained in the UK continue to protect health and safety.

Health is our future - deaths through injury currently sits at 137 (HSE, 2017), a remarkable decline of 85 per cent since 1974. The flip side to this, however, is that death by mesothelioma alone stands at 2,542 (HSE, 2017) a tenfold increase in the same timescale. Mental health and wellbeing are of critical importance too; 37 per cent of all health-related illness - 500,000 workers suffering from work-related stress, anxiety and depression (HSE, 2017) with nearly 75 per cent of all suicides in the UK being male (Office for National Statistics, 2017). For too long, health has played second fiddle to safety, but the BDA is responding. Using its vast network of contacts, it has identified occupational health specialists and organisations to assist in impacting on the current and predicted trends to affect the industry. The HSC is at the beginning of this journey; however, it is determined to have an equally robust contribution to improving standards.

The HSC positively encourages participation, and contact can be made, either to individuals or to the organisation as a whole, as promoted through the BDA website, It is imperative that the HSC adapts directly in response to the industry to ensure that the BDA members' interests are best represented at all times.

Jon Christie is the chair of the British Drilling Association's Health and Safety Committee