Directional Drilling Safety: The Basics

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Just how safe is directional drilling? As can be expected from the industry, drilling isn’t the safest of professions. Paul McKinney, president and chief safety consultant for Insight Safety Management, shares a few important directional drilling safety guidelines below. The safety of drilling operators – and infrastructure present at the drilling site – should be of paramount importance. Here’s how to perform truly safe directional drilling:

Drilling Safety Tips

Paul McKinney shares that the biggest problem directional drillers face is striking underground utilities such as sewage pipes and electrical cabling.


“… the first step in preventing damage is that the contractor must … get the existing utilities marked and physically identified.”


Because the drill string moves in a straight line when performing horizontal directional drilling, drillers MUST know where existing utilities are in relation to the proposed drilling path. The first step is to physically identify their location below the ground using coloured flags.

On top of that, McKinney suggests drillers expose underground utilities here and there along the drilling path to ensure they are staying well clear while drilling. This can be done by hand digging, and drillers must keep in mind that surface locator flags indicate only the utility’s general location.


“Take extra care when planning a drill path parallel to an existing utility. Pipelines may have valves, tees or other connections protruding into the drill path. Buried cables may not have been installed in a straight line and excess cable loops are often buried.”


McKinney also recommends that foremen ensure workers have been trained sufficiently on their roles, and that all of the necessary safety equipment is inspected and in good condition. This safety equipment includes electrically insulated footwear, eye protection, insulated rubber gloves, bright clothing and – where necessary – ear protection.


“The drill head must always be tracked to ensure that it stays on course. Tracking devices use electromagnetic fields to detect and track the drill head. Before starting work, check for sources of interference.”


Sources of interference around the drilling site include:

  • Electric fences
  • Radio & TV transmission centres
  • Thunderstorms
  • Underground metal structures
  • Vehicles
  • Cellular towers

Directional Drilling Information in South Africa

Looking to find out more about directional drilling in South Africa? Why not keep an eye on our Bohrmeister drilling blog, or better yet – get in touch with us for a chat!

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