Horizontal directional drilling is one of the safest forms of digging underground. But since accidents can happen even if you least expect it, all HDD contractors, are required to observe safety drilling practices.

Safe drilling measures are intended to prevent accidents that might lead to injuries to workers or cause damage to existing underground utilities. For example, if a drill encounters underground electrical wires, it doesn’t only cause possible damage to the line but fatal injuries to the drill operator.

Most underground drilling companies know about the effectiveness of horizontal directional drilling (HDD) in several types of construction projects. As a matter of fact, a lot of underground utility construction companies work with directional drilling contractors  supplement traditional excavation especially when utilities are being installed.

HDD is an efficient drilling method in certain situations. It facilitates speed and savings on cost. It also causes fewer disruptions to existing structures, traffic flow and the environment.

As far as safety is concerned, no single method of operation is perfect. Every digging and excavation method carry certain hazards that must be prevented. But as far as horizontal directional drilling is concerned, its most common problem is hitting existing ground utilities. This can adversely affect the supply of essential services like power, water, and telecommunication to affected areas.

It is important for directional drilling companies to locate and identify existing utilities. This can help to protect utilities from getting damaged when the digging operation begins.

Here are the most important safety guidelines for directional drilling contractors.  As owner of a construction project, you must know these to make sure your HDD contractor is following safe operating procedures.

Contact “Dig Safe” before Digging

Dig Safe is a free underground facilities location services provided by not-for-profit clearinghouse to contractors who plan to dig. It is funded entirely by its member utility companies to protect their underground utility lines. Directional drilling contractors are required to call “Dig Safe” before they start any digging project. This would be the most effective way to know if there are utility lines underneath the ground they are going to break.

Expose Utilities

Once the location of utilities is located, your contractor exposes them along the drill line at regular intervals. This will ensure that these lines are in their right places. HDD contractors expose buried utilities via hand digging or vacuum excavation. As a project owner, you should understand that the flags on the ground only serve as markers for the approximate horizontal location of the utilities but not their depth.

See to it that your contractor can plan a drill path carefully. Ask them to double-check the area around it to make sure that if any unmarked utility exists, they’re not affected by the new drilling project. It would be a way for both you and your HDD contractor to avoid causing damage to utilities which could translate to unwanted costs.

Use the Right Equipment and Workforce

Make sure that your drilling contractor has the right safety equipment and its workers are qualified to perform their job.

According to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers  (AEM), individuals working on a directional drilling project should wear electrically insulated footwear especially during the setup and drilling stage. It will help them avoid getting electrically shocked if they accidentally encounter underground electric cable that produce ground voltages.

To guarantee enough protection, workers involved in a directional drilling project should wear eye protection and insulated gloves during operation.

Safe Practices during Drill Operation

To ensure an accident-free operation, drill technicians should track the drill head to make sure that it is on course. Since electromagnetic devices are used for this purpose, technicians should check if there are sources of interference before commencing a drilling their work. Common sources of interference include:

  • Traffic sensing loops
  • Traffic signal pads
  • Electric dog fences
  • Underground utility lines
  • Trace lines that produce high frequency signals
  • Cathodic protection currents
  • Radar transmission facilities
  • Thunderstorms
  • Other locating equipment being used nearby
  • Passive sources of interference which include underground metal structures, steel pipes and proximity to saltwater

It is important for the operator of the drilling machine and the tracking equipment operator to have an open line of communication with each other. They need to brainstorm about the planned drill path and identify possible problems. They may use a two-way radio communication system to communicate effectively during the operation.

When readings are critical or inconsistent, the operation must be stopped, and the information verified to confirm and correct a problem. The team should not resume drilling until the problem is identified and corrected.

The team is expected to slow down if their drill path is near an existing utility. Additionally, back filling a pothole should not be done until they’re sure that the back-reamer is clear, and the existing utility isn’t damaged.

Identified Employee Hazards

A horizontal directional drilling operation can expose workers to potential hazards. You must be sure that your HDD contractor knows these and have given their workers the necessary education and training to avoid accidents. Here are some common ways your HDD contractor can prevent accidents associated to directional drilling:

  • The use of pipe wrenches to separate a pipe string must be avoided, as pipe wrenches can slip. Workers should use special tools called tongs for this purpose.
  • Coiled plastic or poly-pipe should be restrained first before they are cut. Workers should also take extra caution when uncoiling these materials to avoid getting struck.
  • Workers are prohibited from entering a roadway except when necessary. When working, they should wear highly visible clothing to keep themselves visible to motorists and equipment operators.
  • Staying or standing near the rotating drill shaft is an unsafe act. Workers should steer clear of it at all times.
  • Workers should avoid standing on the drill string or in the drill’s expected exit point.
  • To avoid possible electrocution, workers should not touch the pipe string or drilling equipment during the drilling operation. Only the drill operator with proper PPE is authorized to touch the equipment.
  • If the drill hits a gas pipe, the contractor should notify everyone in the area and advise them to leave the area at once. They should also report the matter to 911 and all parties concerned including their main office.

These are the most important safe horizontal directional drilling work practices you should know as owner of a project that requires digging. To make sure that your project is in safe hands, you should work with experienced directional drilling companies like Advanced Line Systems. Our years of successful operation on different drilling projects is our testimony of competence.

Call us at (303) 475-8420 for your inquiries and job orders.