Oil and gas well drilling: hazards and precautions

Educating workers on the hazards and precautions involved in oil and gas well drilling can have a powerful impact on jobsite safety. The information below, from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) describes some risks and safety solutions associated with each step of the well drilling process.

According to OSHA, work teams using a rotary table and kelly drive, face a variety of hazards from the rotary table that supports the drilling assembly and turns the drill stem, and the kelly that is suspended above workers.

Handling pipes:  As workers unload and position tubulars and other pipes, they are at risk of trips and falls and being struck by or caught between pipes or other moving objects. Reduce injuries by using forklifts appropriately, correctly pinning or chocking pipes on properly leveled racks, and staying on the ground while working tubulars from their ends. Always remain aware of the surroundings and stand clear of elevated or moving loads. Pay close attention to pipes and other equipment being hoisted or moved. Prevent falling pipe accidents caused by failed lifting equipment by inspecting wire ropes and slings, chains, and hooks.



Preparing drilling fluid:  Hazardous fluids used during drilling could cause burns, explosions, violent chemical reactions, respiratory damage, physical injuries, trips, and falls. Reduce injuries by following chemical procedures recommended on Safety Data Sheets (SDS). Use personal protective equipment like eye protection, face protection, and respiratory protection. Keep emergency eyewash and showers nearby and properly ventilate all work areas. Ensure chemicals are properly mixed in designated containers. Choose less harmful materials and pre-mixed mud whenever possible. 



Beginning to drill:  As drilling starts, hazards include being struck by or caught between tongs, chains, collars, or pipes; physical injuries during lifting or moving bit breakers, drill collars, tongs or other large wrenches, and pipes; trips and falls; and shallow gas. Some solutions to safeguard workers include properly latching and handling tongs, standing beyond the tong’s swing radius, staying away from spinning chain and machinery, lifting pipes slowly to reduce swing momentum, using correct lifting techniques, working with rig floor winches or other lifting aids when possible, and using a pullback or tail rope to guide pipes.
Employers can also help to reduce injuries by implementing a strong blowout prevention program if well control is lost. 



Before breaking out pipe:  When preparing to break out pipe, body parts could be pinched by equipment. To prevent this, educate workers on how to correctly latch tongs and safely position their hands on tong and slip handles.

Breaking out pipe:  During this task, workers could be hit by tongs, slips, pipes, equipment, or flying excess drilling mud. Protect workers by inspecting tongs, cables, and lines before each work shift or tour. Make sure those not operating tongs work away from the swing radius. Use proper methods for tong-latching and hand placement, stay away from spinning rotary tables, and ensure solid communication between the driller and floor crew. To prevent mud from making contact with workers’ skin, direct mud into the platform’s turntable with a bucket. If available, shut the kelly’s mud saver valve.

Making up pipe:  As crews make up pipe in the mousehole, or shallow bore where sections of drill pipe are temporarily suspended, they could lose footing and fall, be pinched or hit by the kelly, or become caught in the chain. To avoid these hazards, make sure hands are properly placed, keep the area surrounding the rotating table clear of items or substances that could cause workers to trip or slip, and frequently inspect chains for broken or worn links. Discard any chains that are worn at any point to less than 90% of their original thickness. Prevent excessive chain and cable wear by lubricating and maintaining guide rollers.



Raising the kelly and joint out of the mousehole: Crew members involved in or working near this task could be struck by the swinging kelly or pipe. They are also at risk of being hit by debris or overhead objects if the traveling block that holds drilling cables runs into sheaves or pulleys mounted at the top of the derrick or if the swivel hits the derrick. Instruct all employees to wear hard hats and stay out of the swing path of the pipe and kelly. Ensure hoisting mechanisms are working properly and have a crown safety device installed.

Adding pipe to the string: Slips, trips, falls, and being struck by, caught between, or pinched by equipment are hazards that exist when adding pipe to the string. To prevent these accidents, stay away from the spinning chain and refrain from stepping over jerk chains or crossing beneath suspended loads. Keep the area surrounding the rotary table clear. Inspect chains and discard those that are damaged or worn. Always keep hands clear of stump end and pipe interiors and correctly latch tongs. When the pipe is being stabbed, position feet and legs away from tongs.



Resuming drilling:  Once the driller starts rotating the drill string and re-lowering the drill bit, workers’ clothing could become tangled in the equipment or they could be thrown from the rotary table. To reduce these risks, workers should keep their distance from the engaged rotary table.

Teach workers to recognize these hazards and use appropriate safety procedures.  With the right training and safety supplies, oil and gas well drilling crews can reduce the risk of injuries during the drilling process.

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