Greetings fellow readers. After three years of writing for this publication, I feel compelled to repeat my story as to how I came to value safety, offering it as a point of reference for those still inclined to resist or ballyhoo safety. Let me say right off, I started in the oilfield (as a roughneck) the exact same year OSHA started as a governing entity—in 1971. It’s been a long road of trial and error, for OSHA and myself. Yes, we’ve both made mistakes. However we both have learned from our mistakes and others’ mistakes as well. I’m not sure which of us learned the quickest, but I can guarantee that the end result has saved lives.
The very first day as a floorhand on a deep hole drilling rig in West Texas, I was told that I had to wear steel-toed boots and a hard hat and that I needed to purchase them. I didn’t like that, but they indicated my pay was $3.25 for floors and if I was a quick learner and made a “hand” I could eventually make a whopping $3.50 per hour. Minimum wage was $1.60/hr. I was going to be rich! Finally it was a means to work full time and go to college. I was in tall cotton. Then I found out that I had to buy my own cloth gloves. So then I started washing them out to save money. Lol
Fast forward ten years, and by that time I had worked my way up the food chain, becoming a driller, learning as I went. I never cared for any of the safety guys, largely due to the fact that I never saw them in the field. And if I did see them, they barked out rules and pointed out things, that I perceived as low risk and small severity. A few of them were older roughnecks that had lost fingers, toes, or legs. I was cocky and ignorant, all at the same time. I saw no real benefit in safety guys. Sadly, there were no safety women in those days. I’m glad we have evolved as an industry.
A job opportunity popped up to work on a land rig in Italy, as a driller. Italy! Get out of the city! It was a great opportunity. So I worked 28 days on and 28 days off. I had worked there for over a year when I experienced and learned why we “did” safety.
Luciano Smigliani. The spring before, my wife came over and joined me during my regular 28 days off. We traveled all over Italy and my close buddy Luciano (Charlie) took us around to see all the sights and experience all of Italy. There are stories of that as well. After that hitch, I came back to work and started my next hitch on a new well.
Here is where I learned Safety the hard way and grasped its value! We had just set intermediate casing. The pusher indicated he wanted to get ahead of the game and start running in the hole before cement set. The cementers did not displace the cement. We ran into green cement and became stuck. The jets on the bit were plugged, we couldn’t come up, couldn’t rotate, so the pusher said I’ll just pressure up on the hole and blow the jets on the bit out. He pressured up to 10k. He told me to release the pressure on the pop off. I started down the backside of the rig to do it. Before I got there, Charlie released the pop off. The discharge line parted from the pop off and the pop off struck Luciano in the back of the head and spun him around 2 times and hurled him some 30-40 feet away from the pump.
To this day, it was one of the worst days of my life. I had what today they call PTSD. I had survivor’s remorse. It took me several months before I got back on a rig. Nightmares. Guilt. Shock. I knew it was risky—that is why I was going to do it instead of Luciano. My friend. D.o.D. 7-6-1980.
Why does it take a bad accident to believe in safety? Does safety cost too much? Does an accident-free environment actually pay anything? How much is a life worth? How much is eyesight actually worth? Hands? Feet?
Safety is a value in and of itself. Safety should not be something to gamble with. “The higher the risk the bigger the reward” is a saying that might work in Vegas but not here. Whose life is worth that gamble?
As I always say, it is not how many hits you have in baseball. It’s how many times you reach home safely that counts!
Dusty Roach is a safety professional based in Midland. He is also a public speaker on subjects of leadership and safety, and he maintains a personal website at dustyroach.com.