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Horizontal Directional Drilling Archives

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    Vermeer HDD Circuit Training Program Gets Results


    With the race to get fiber to everyone’s doorstep, replacing aging utilities and new installs using trenchless technology has the horizontal directional drill (HDD) industry booming. For many contractors, the only thing standing in their way from real growth is finding qualified employees. The industry needs more trained operators, which is exactly what the Vermeer HDD Circuit® training program is designed to do.

    About the program

    The Vermeer HDD Circuit training program is designed to help HDD companies, large and small, develop their employees’ operating expertise quickly. The two-week program pairs eight students with four full-time Vermeer instructors who will train them on HDD skills involving operation, locating, bore planning, mud mixing, vacuum excavation, daily machine maintenance and safety.

    During the two weeks, students will spend 72 percent of their time in the field drilling, locating and performing everyday duties of an HDD crew. The other 18 percent is spent in the classroom learning about different fluid mixing additives, necessary calculations, safety, tooling and other essential topics.

    The program started in 2016 and has since held 15 sessions and trained more than 100 drillers. According to Dan Vroom, customer training lead at Vermeer, the program was designed to focus on the specific needs of each student going through the program, which is why they have a two-to-one student-to-teacher ratio.

    “Everyone going through the class has varying knowledge and experience, and our goal is to identify the areas where an individual needs help and bring them to a higher level of expertise,” Vroom explained. “We place a big emphasis on cross-training. It’s important for productivity to have crew members that can quickly jump into another role when needed.”

    Looking at the numbers

    Vroom said they have had students from all over the globe from more than 40 different HDD companies. “Around 60 percent of the students we have trained did not have any operator experience before taking the class,” he said. “The thorough, two-week course gave them hands-on time and classroom knowledge they needed to reach the same level as many two-year drill operators. That statistic alone makes the program a worthwhile investment for contractors.”

    This isn’t a class that is only for new members of the workforce. More than four generations of drillers have gone through the program with the range of 20-40 years old representing the largest group.

    To provide a good gauge of how far a student has come from start to finish, they are assessed on their HDD knowledge on the first day, and then again evaluated on the last day to determine how much they have improved. “We’ve had students score a 31 percent on their first day and an 89 on their last day,” explained Vroom.

    Students who successfully pass the course will receive HDD certification from Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC). The Vermeer HDD Circuit program is the only accredited program of its kind in the United States.

    Want to learn more

    If you are interested in learning more about the Vermeer HDD Circuit training program for yourself or an employee, contact your local Vermeer dealer or email the Vermeer training team at [email protected].

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    Establishing a Safe HDD Jobsite


    A directional drilling jobsite isn’t a typical construction site. For instance, it is common for horizontal direction drilling (HDD) crews to be working next to roadways or near pedestrians. Also, the equipment is frequently moved throughout the day, and many sites are spread out. To keep crew members and everyone near the drilling jobsite safe, contractors should establish an operating routine that involves several steps before work begins.

    According to Dan Vroom, customer training lead at Vermeer, the first step for creating a safer jobsite starts with reading and understanding the operator’s manual of the equipment the crew will be using. “Anyone operating machinery, whether it's a horizontal directional drill, a vacuum excavation system or an excavator needs to spend some time familiarizing themselves with the machine’s operator’s manual,” he said. “It contains valuable information, including proper machine operations, personal protection equipment requirements and safety precautions that should be part of a company’s standard operating procedures.”

    Pre-bore planning

    As crews prepare for a job, it is important to make sure that all known utility lines in the work area have been marked, either by a utility locating service or by the individual utilities. When in doubt about whether a locate has been done, make a call to the specific company to be sure.

    “Contractors should also make sure they have emergency phone numbers for all the local utility companies, emergency services, the job’s foreman and co-workers before they start working,” said Vroom. “If something goes wrong on the jobsite, this will help reduce the amount of time it takes to notify the appropriate people.”


    In the United States, OSHA requires the location of underground utilities to be determined before boring begins. It is the contractor’s responsibility to expose each utility near the bore to verify the exact location of those utilities. Potholing using a vacuum excavation system or soft excavation method like a shovel, are a safe way to fully expose existing utility lines.

    For hard surfaces such as concrete, a core saw may be used to cut a small access hole through the surface.

    Setting up the jobsite

    When loading and unloading equipment onto trailers, make sure the trailer is on level ground and drive the HDD slowly off the ramps. Equipment should never be unloaded if the trailer surface is slick from mud, ice or snow, because that can cause the machine to slide off the trailer. Be sure to place traffic warning cones around the trailer and the truck. Some cities may require additional traffic warning devices for loading and unloading equipment along roadways — be sure crew members understand what those are.

    Once the directional drill is positioned on the site, crew members need to insert the voltage stake into the ground at least 6 feet (1.8 m) away from the machine and not over the drill string. “The electrical Strike Alert system on Vermeer directional drills uses two circuits: The first circuit measures current flow up the drill pipe, and the other measures differences in voltage between the drill and the earth ground,” explained Vroom.

    Next, cones should be placed on all four sides of the drill to create a barrier around the drill. Vroom also says crews should use safety signs that warn unauthorized people to stay away. “Only trained personnel wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) should be allowed inside the perimeter of the cones,” he added.

    Wearing the appropriate PPE, the operator can then sit on the drill to stake it to the ground, which will keep it from moving during the thrusting and pulling of the drilling process. No other crew members should be within the cone area during this part of the process.

    Marking holes

    All exposure pits and entry/exits pits along the bore path need to be marked and/or barricaded. Potholes also need to be covered to prevent pedestrian accidents.

    Testing Remote Lockout system

    Vermeer directional drills are equipped with a Remote Lockout system, which gives the locator or appropriate crew member the ability to disable the thrust, rotation and drilling fluid flow during operations. Once locked out, movement of the drill stem cannot be restarted until the Remote Lockout system had been disengaged.

    “Crews should test their drill’s Remote Lockout system daily," said Vroom. “The locator should have the lockout remote with them during drilling operations. Also, the machine must be locked out before working on or near an exposed drill string or tool.”

    Jobsite safety needs to be a priority before work begins to establish a safe jobsite. Make sure no crew members are taking shortcuts or unnecessary risks that could lead to an accident.

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    Personal Protective Equipment for Directional Drilling Checklist


    Is everyone on your crew outfitted with the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for the jobsite? As importantly, are they actually wearing it?

    On horizontal directional drilling (HDD) jobsites, OSHA and Vermeer guidelines dictate that every crew member must wear the following PPE:

    • Eye protection
    • Hard hats
    • Hearing protection
    • Safety shoes (steel-toe or composite-toe boots)
    • Safety vests when working around roadways
    • Leather gloves when changing out tooling or handling heavy materials

    For crew members working near the bore path, electrically insulated boots need to be worn since the ground may become electrically charged if a strike occurs. Also, electrically insulated boots and electrically insulated gloves should be worn by anyone placing the voltage sensor in the ground, or standing on the ground while touching the directional drill. This includes any crew members manually loading rods into the rod box.

    Crew members should not wear the following items because they can catch on rotating equipment and cause an injury.

    • Loose clothing
    • Rings
    • Wristwatches
    • Necklaces
    • Bracelets
    • Long hair (should be tied back)

    Keep in mind, the only way PPE can protect you is if you’re wearing it. It’s not enough to simply have it sitting in the truck. Every member of your crew must wear it every day, because you never know when an accident could occur.

    It is important to remember that PPE will eventually wear out. Make sure everyone’s PPE is in good shape and replace items when needed.

    And finally, always consult your HDD operator’s manual for PPE guidelines pertaining to that specific machine. 

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    Keeping crews safe in trenches


    Did you know that one cubic yard (0.76 cubic meters) of dirt can weigh as much as a car? That’s one of the reasons why working safely around an open trench should be everyone’s top priority on the job. Trench cave-in poses a high risk and is more likely than other excavation-related incidents to result in a fatality. And, according to OSHA, excavation and trenching are among the most hazardous construction operations.

    Starts with education

    Educating contractors about proper trench safety procedures has been a longtime focus at Vermeer. Over the last several years, Vermeer and other manufacturers have helped the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) promote trench safety and develop safety materials for use throughout the industry. In addition, the training group at Vermeer regularly works with dealers and customers to make sure they understand OSHA’s guidelines on how to keep workers safe around open trenches.

    According to Vermeer Product Safety Manager Darin Dux, no one wants to work unsafely, but sometimes workers don’t have all the knowledge they need to make good decisions. “Unforeseen risks like soil variability, the effect of previous excavations and moisture have to be made known,” he said. “Everyone on a crew must fully understand these potential hazards before entering even a shallow trench.”

    Creating a safety-first culture

    It is essential for contractors to have safety programs in place for their employees. “Commit to training your workers and make sure everyone on your crew reads OSHA’s ‘Trenching and Excavation Safety’,” said Dux. “AEM and many manufacturers have additional training and programs available.”

    There is important safety information included in every Vermeer trencher’s operator’s manual. Dux says all equipment operators should read and understand the operator’s manual before they get behind the controls of a new machine.

    Safety on the job

    In addition to safety training, operators should learn proper trenching and excavation techniques. “Sloping and benching methods should be used to prepare trench excavation areas safely,” explained Dux. “Crews should use proper shoring and shielding systems for trench wall protection.”

    Dux adds that safety protocol needs to be followed every time, even if a trench is shallow. “The weight and pressure of collapsed soil on legs alone can cut off circulation and create a fatal condition due to lack of circulation. And in deeper trenches, it can take several hours to extract someone from a collapse. A fatality in this situation is likely.”

    For information on equipment safety, visit Vermeer.com.