Information hub and thought leadership portal by Boart Longyear


October 4, 2018

The Responsibility of Stop Work Authority

From the dusty roads in Winnemucca, Nevada to a remote man camp in the Atacama Desert and beyond, exploration drilling is one of humanity’s last great adventures.

Drills are driven, flown, and hand-carried into remote locations to help discover and define precious resources. Drill teams leave their families and the safety of modern technology to help search for the next big strike. The satisfaction of being part of the bigger picture is incredibly rewarding, but nothing is more rewarding than returning home and sharing the adventure with friends and family. Being part of an exploration team takes extensive training, knowledge, and trust. From the first day of employment, team members are trained in proper operating procedures and safety of each task required of them. They build knowledge from each project they complete, building a wide range of competencies and the ability to problem solve onsite issues.

As the years go by, the employee moves from novice to veteran, offering years of experience to help complete the most demanding projects. In the drilling industry, the more experience an employee has, the more they become invaluable. Training is the base and knowledge creates the structure of a great team member, but trust is what keeps all projects moving forward to the end goal. It’s confidence in each other, from the new hire to the twenty-year veteran that they will operate safely. If a team member sees an unsafe act, they will say, “STOP” before that act potentially becomes an incident.  Boart Longyear utilizes the Stop Work Authority which empowers all team members, regardless of seniority, to stop work anytime there is an unsafe condition. . Knowing that your colleagues have your back, and you have theirs, allows for safe and productive work. Proper utilization of the Stop Work Authority maintains a safe job site; yet there are moments on every project that someone should have said “STOP,” but it never happened. What prevents an employee from speaking up? Let’s drill down into three safety scenarios from different companies and projects around the world that can help teach employees to speak up.   

Man up!

Drilling requires employees who are mentally and physically tough. The job requires men and women who can work in a wide range of weather conditions, completing demanding tasks like tripping pipe and handling casing. In the past, when a job becomes too difficult to complete the other team members will shout to “Man up” or other unwelcomed words of encouragement. On a cathodic protection well project in west Texas, two team members were attempting to remove a 12” tricone bit from a stabilizer while the tooling was in the table. After several unsuccessful attempts to unscrew the bit, employee A told employee B to use the 48” aluminum pipe on the table. Employee B knew that the wrench was the wrong tool for the job and as he started to explain that, employee A said, “Man up, stop being afraid.” On the second attempt to free the bit the wrench exploded with the handle hitting employee B above the left eye requiring 18 stitches. Two other team members watched the entire event happen without speaking up or saying, “STOP.” Drilling is a rough and tough job where no one onsite wants to look weak. However, that is how accidents have the potential to become fatal. All team members onsite had the proper training to say, “Stop. This is the wrong tool for the job.” A good safety culture starts with eliminating the “man up” ways of operating and replaces it with team members who trust one another. Team members who are willing to speak up when a procedure is unsafe. Man up can quickly become man down when no one speaks up.

The Boss Knows Best

Drilling is a skill that is developed over years of experience; often the driller on site has triple the experience as the new hire. On a coring project in the Atacama desert, a drill crew was setting up the rig for their third 1,000 meter hole. The driller attached the mud hose to the pump and prepared to start pumping drill fluid. Several hours into the first shift of the new hole, the mud line blew off the pump, striking a helper and knocking him to the ground. 

The helper suffered a small laceration and bruising. An accident investigation uncovered that the whip check safety cable was not attached per standard operating procedure. An employee onsite said that before joining his new crew they always connected the wire but his new driller and crew did not attach the cables on the previous two holes. The employee thought the driller knew best for his rig and did not speak up. Safe projects are the most efficient, and safety depends on following proper procedures every time. All employees on site should have said, “STOP” on the first and second hole when the safety cable was not attached. 

21st Century Distractions

Drilling is a complex process requiring every team member onsite to be focused on the tasks at hand. 

Drilling is a complex process requiring every team member onsite to be focused on the tasks at hand. Rotating tooling, suspended tooling overhead, slips, trips, and falls are just a short list of hazards while working around a drill rig. On a construction project just outside downtown Toronto, a two-person team drilled 6” auger holes to 17 meters. The two had worked together for over ten years on similar projects across Canada. It was a rainy Tuesday morning, and the team had five holes to complete for the day. The team would switch roles from driller to helper after each hole, allowing both employee A and employee B the opportunity to work in both positions. After the second hole, employee A noticed on social media on his smartphone that a family member had been injured in a car accident. As the team progressed onto hole three, employee B was drilling as employee A was preparing augers. Employee B could tell that employee A was not himself, but they continued to work. As they connected the final auger, employee A put his hand on the head while employee B was still drilling and employee A smashed his pinky and ring finger. When employee A was asked what happened, and why he would place his hand in a pinch point, he was at a loss. He further explained that the car accident photos on social media had him thinking about his family and not the job. Smartphones give us the ability to be updated on situations in a moment’s notice and because of this technology we can physically be on the job site and mentally be somewhere else. Employee B said at the accident investigation that she knew something was wrong but did not speak up. After the fact, employee B said she should have shut down the rig and let employee A take time to find out the severity of the injured family member. The Stop Work Authority is designed to stop unsafe acts, and sometimes that act can be checking to make sure a colleague is mentally safe.

Lesson Learned

No one starts the work day with the intent to be unsafe or injured.

In each scenario, there was a moment where an accident could have been prevented by saying “STOP.” No one starts the work day with the intent to be unsafe or injured. In general, accidents happen from a lack of training, a lapse in judgment, complacency, or being distracted. Some employees worry about that moment of awkwardness from stopping a colleague or being wrong about stopping a colleague. The moment of awkwardness that could occur by saying “STOP” is a feeling that is short-lived, compared to the memory of knowing you could have stopped the unsafe act before your colleague was injured or killed. That awkward feeling is far better than saying, “I am sorry” to the family of an injured or killed employee. The Stop Work Authority was created to prevent catastrophic events and to educate everyone on site. No team member will be upset by the use of a Stop Work Authority that was unnecessary. If that situation occurs, it is a perfect time to educate the team on the task and the risk involved. The level of risk increases by the distance to the nearest trauma center. Modern medicine has significantly increased patients’ odds of fully recovering from a catastrophic injury. A worker who crushes his hand on a job site in downtown Los Angeles has an excellent chance of full recovery. However, a worker on a core rig in the Cascade Mountains has less than a 50% chance of keeping the appendage, let alone regaining mobility. Medical advances are only impactful if the injured can be treated immediately by a state-of-the-art trauma center. Saying “STOP” is always the right decision.  

To be a Boart Longyear employee is to know that safety is a core value. The ultimate goal of every project is to bring the team members home safely. Stop Work Authority works because of the trust the team has in one another. It creates a secondary safety net allowing everyone onsite the ability to say stop before an accident becomes catastrophic. Proper utilization and execution of the Stop Work Authority come from training, knowledge, and trust. Every person on a Boart Longyear job site is welcome and expected to speak up when they see an unsafe task. The Stop Work Authority is a powerful tool that creates an evolving safety culture that is actively improving upon itself every day. 


Download the Boart Longyear Make it Safe, Make it Personal, Make it Home pocket card with the Stop Work Authority policy which each Boart Longyear employee signs, adds a picture, and carries with them.


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James Burris


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