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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.