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June 2014 – Horizontal Environmental Drilling Safety – If You Can’t Stand the Heat….

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Horizontal Environmental Drilling Safety –
If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

In case you missed it (or want to forget it), this winter has been tough on most of the nation. Severe cold and heavy snowfall have plagued much of the United States over the last several months. It is now early June, the snow is melted and it is time to get in the field. But before we don our PPE/safety gear and start installing horizontal remediation wells, let’s review one of the most dangerous hazards we face in the field: heat related illness/injuries.

As you work in the field and exert energy, your body builds up heat. The
excess heat causes your body to sweat, and as the sweat evaporates, you
cool down. When your body is unable to cool itself, you may develop
symptoms of heat related illness.

The risk of becoming sick from the heat depends on many variables including:

  • Your physical condition
  • Medications, weather, temperature, humidity and wind
  • Type of clothing and PPE worn
  • Amount of physical exertion
  • Working conditions; full sun or shade

The types of heat related illness vary from mild to life threatening and include the following:

Dehydration – Your body is sweating fluids faster than they are being replenished. You may feel weak and very thirsty.

Heat Rash/Prickly Heat – This rash occurs in areas where sweat is
not easily removed from the surface of the skin. Heat rash can be
extremely irritating because it develops in very sensitive areas of the
body (if you have ever had prickly heat, you know what I am talking
about). This problem can be mitigated by resting in a cool, dry place
and allowing your clothing to dry. Bringing a second set of clothes to
the site and changing in the middle of your shift may be helpful. Also,
wearing clothing that wicks moisture quickly – like many of the new
high-performance fabrics, may also avoid this issue. While getting a
rash is not life threatening, it is uncomfortable, may cause your
performance to be degraded, and in extreme cases, could lead to
infection if not treated.

Cramps – Muscle spasms occur due to the loss of electrolytes in
the body due to heavy sweating. Electrolytes are minerals such as
sodium, potassium and magnesium that are essential to the body. Large
muscles/muscle groups such as thighs, shoulders and arms are all at risk
for heat related cramps. In some cases, the cramps may occur hours
after the activity is stopped. Staying hydrated with water and replacing
electrolytes with sports drinks will help alleviate heat cramps.

Heat Exhaustion – Symptoms of heat exhaustion include clammy
moist skin, dizziness and possible fainting. You may feel nauseated,
have a headache and feel tired. If you have these symptoms, it’s time to
get out of the sun, take a break and drink fluids. Removing your PPE
and loosening/removing tight fitting clothes will also help.

Heat Stroke – Heat stroke is a life threatening emergency.
Symptoms of heat stroke include hot dry skin, rapid heartbeat,
confusion, delirium, rapid/shallow breathing and loss of consciousness.
If these symptoms are noted, call 911 and immediately take the following

  • Move the victim to shade
  • Remove or loosen clothing
  • Cool the body, neck and head with cold water, ice packs and fans
  • Place the victim in the recovery position until first responders arrive

So how can you prevent heat related illness? Follow these steps:

  • Review the symptoms of heat issues during the morning tailgate safety meeting
  • Wear loose fitting, light colored clothing – without disrespecting the PPE requirements of the job
  • Select PPE carefully, keeping in mind the need to balance exposure protection with heat safety issues
  • Use fans or shade structures on site to minimize sun/heat exposure
  • Start earlier in the day or work at night to eliminate working during the hottest time of the day
  • Become acclimated to the weather before working long shifts
  • Maintain body fluids
    • Drink about one cup of water every 15 to 20 minutes, even if you are not thirsty
    • No alcohol, coffee, tea or caffeinated beverages
    • Electrolyte replacement good; sugary and ”energy” drinks bad
  • Build in rest periods during the shift
  • Eat light meals and avoid heavy foods
    Do not drink alcohol to excess in the evenings – moderation will help keep your fluid levels high


A specific example of heat related illness involved a DTD employee working on a project in southern California. DTD was contracted to complete four shallow horizontal soil vapor extraction (SVE) wells beneath a shopping plaza. The entry locations for the wells were located in a freshly paved parking lot. Air temperatures ranged from 80-90 degrees with a slight breeze and finding shade was difficult. The crew members for the project had just completed a long-term project in the Northern US. In other words while the crew members were in good shape, they were not acclimated to the local weather conditions – high temperatures. After all wells were installed, DTD began setting grout seals. Throughout the course of the day, all crew members were exposed to the ambient air temperatures and the
heat radiating off the new pavement. One crew member in particular started to complain of a mild headache which then progressed into an elevated body temperature and minimal sweating (sweating is the body’s first defense to battle the onslaught on heat related illnesses). At one point the individual began feeling faint with diminishing energy levels.

The crew’s training and awareness allowed them to recognize the growing symptoms of a heat related illness, suggested the crew member move to a shaded area and relax with fluid replenishment. The individual completed minor tasks for the remainder of the day, but remained in the shade and continued drinking water and Gatorade.

DTD’s crews worked all winter in very harsh conditions. While we’re glad the cold weather is over, the summer heat brings new challenges. Let’s get the warm weather drilling season started off on the right foot by reviewing heat issues. Watch out for each other on the site and learn to recognize the symptoms of heat related illness. Simple steps can significantly reduce or eliminate the potential for field personnel to be injured by the heat.