While proper health and safety (H&S) training is essential to every operation, drilling in extreme environments and remote territories require something more. As the more favourable climates and environments of the planet are increasingly explored and developed, drill service providers are faced with an increasing number of jobs in extreme and remote environments.
Completing jobs successfully in extreme environments requires not just the right technology but also the right skills and knowledge to mitigate site-specific risks. Hence, just as many major drill rig manufacturers will now tailor their machines to accommodate operation in harsher environments, drill service providers have to adapt the H&S training provided to drill crew to ensure an efficient, safe and responsible rig operation.
With more than 50 years' experience in geotechnical drilling, Fugro has completed projects in some of the most challenging environments on earth, including tropical jungles and remote deserts. Based on this experience, it has become clear that adapted and augmented H&S training is essential not just to the safety but also to the efficiency of an extreme or remote drill site. "Robust and well-considered H&S training in extreme locations is a priority in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the drill crews," explains Paul McMann, a Fugro drilling and operations manager, "but it also has the beneficial effect of minimising downtime on projects where delays can be especially costly."
However, he goes on to point out, it is not just the most extreme drill site locations which require specially adapted health and safety training. Even drilling projects in the UK can necessitate adapted H&S training to mitigate specific risk factors.
Identifying hidden risks
While working in natural environments in the UK carries lower risks of infection and disease than most other natural environments around the globe, first aid training should cover some precautions. At Fugro, these include training to avoid exposure to Lyme disease (from ticks) and Weil's disease (borne by water or carriers such as rats).
However, when looking at drill sites in the UK's natural environments, it is often restricted access and the associated potential risks that pose the greatest challenges within H&S training. "Infrastructure work in the United Kingdom may involve lengthy operations on remote moorland or in mountainous areas," explains McMann. He goes on to explain that this means that "emergency and medical services may take longer to respond, potentially longer than the ‘target times' prescribed by the emergency services of the geographical area."
To help mitigate the impact of longer response times, Fugro drilling teams are trained to preserve the wellbeing of a potential casualty. To fulfil this aim, in addition to the standard three-day training in emergency first aid, crew are instructed in trauma treatment and the use of specialist kit including tourniquets, compression bandages, and special CELOX gauze to stem life-threatening bleeds as well as the appropriate procedures for moving a casualty to the designated pick-up zone.
On top of this, remote sites also require the creation of a project-specific rescue plan devised in collaboration with the local emergency services. This can mean working with the regional air ambulance to identify a safe landing point and creating GPS coordinates for the pick-up and landing points to assist the emergency services in quickly locating the drilling team's position. "Also, satellite phones are often used in the UK (and overseas) to mitigate against communication ‘dead zones' or areas of poor reception as communication is key to timely rescue," stresses McMann.
For more extreme climates and terrains, core H&S training for drillers needs to be adapted and augmented to ensure that all site personnel are fully conversant in the localised risks and operational procedures. Where identified through risk assessment, this might include the provision of, and training in, any special personal protective equipment (PPE) required to safeguard them.
For instance, the selection, provision, and training in the use of appropriate PPE played a major role in protecting Fugro personnel from site-specific health risks during an extended drilling investigation in the Kazakh Desert, in the south of Kazakhstan. On the site, drill crew were exposed to both ends of the weather extremes from 50°C down to -30°C. For sub-zero conditions, personnel were instructed in the use and importance of thermally insulated gloves, hard hat liners and thermal suits designed to give sufficient room to perform the physical activities required on the drill rig.
"Fugro H&S first aid and emergency medical trauma training emphasised the need to increase rest periods and ensure adequate protection of the hands, face and extremities from exposure and the development of frostbite," explains McMann.
During hot weather, drill crews switched to lightweight overalls that assisted the cooling effect while providing the necessary sun protection for the body, arms and legs. But, even when the temperature plummets, the desert atmosphere remains dry and arid, so H&S instructions also emphasised the risks of dehydration and heat stroke. This meant understanding hydration fluids and the signs and symptoms of dehydration as well as mitigating measures like gazebos to provide rest and shade. The crew's attention was also focused on other sun-related safety hazards, such as burn risks from direct exposure to unprotected skin, as well as contact with exposed metal surfaces, which can get very hot in the extreme heat.
However, though proper preparation and training before arriving on site are essential, it is not, stresses McMann, enough. To ensure a continuous safe work environment in even the most extreme work conditions requires regular toolbox talks on site to maintain the focus on health and safety and resolve any issues arising from day-to-day operations. Essentially, he concludes, on top of adapted H&S training, continued day-to-day risk analysis and resolution are key to safe and efficient operation when working in extreme environments
Fugro's H&S training and precautions in a remote jungle environment
Fugro's five-month-long geotechnical contract on a hydroelectric scheme in Africa's Sierra Leone presented the challenges of a very remote site within a tropical jungle.
Located a three-hour drive from the nearest village, the drillers' camp was set up with tents and a kitchen to provide good cover from the sun and protection for personnel while living in the jungle environment.
Before mobilising to the site, Fugro's preparations included significant time spent producing H&S action plans and appropriate personnel training to eliminate or mitigate identified local risks such as the risk of insect or snake bites. Since the nearest hospital was five hours away, the project team included a dedicated paramedic ready to administer the correct medical emergency treatment and special PPE included snake gaiters around the lower leg and boots. H&S instructors briefed personnel on how to recognise dangerous species of insects and highlighted high-risk areas such as hollows among stored equipment.
Furthermore, Fugro devised supplementary H&S training for day-to-day operations to account for a range of conditions and potential hazards ‘outside of the normal' that might be encountered on site. Operations and H&S were reviewed every day to ensure good practice was being maintained and to address any new issues.