Workover Rig Safety Primer

Here's the lowdown on how to prepare yourself for a workover rig career. First rule: slow down!
Workover Rig Safety Primer
Plan ahead and make sure workover rig employees are trained properly to keep everyone on a job site safe.

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Workover rigs are major players in the oil and gas industry. Some of these mobile rigs used to perform remedial operations — such as pump replacement and repairs to restore or increase well production — can lift and lower up to 350,000 pounds. That’s equal to the weight of 50 half-ton pickup trucks. Bottom line? Keep your crew workers safe from the dangers around these massive rigs. 

Randy Fleck trains thousands of oilfield workers each year. His overriding message for workover rig safety: slow down and pay attention. 

Hand and finger injuries are the most common among employees on workover rigs, says Fleck, training manager for Badlands Integrity Group headquartered in North Dakota. He works with around 90 companies and teaches Occupational Safety and Health Administration courses for Badlands, which provides health, safety, environmental and human resource services to businesses. 

Workover rig crews are under tremendous pressure to get their work done on a job site because companies need to have oil pumping as quickly as possible after a hole has been punched. “Everything is hurry, hurry, hurry,” Fleck says.

That urgency can contribute to more accidents, which can be severe. The enormous equipment that delivers 6,000 to 8,000 pounds of pressure per square inch can be deadly.

Amputations and crushing injuries are the most devastating, and workers don’t always pay attention to hand and finger placement. “It’s pretty unfortunate when you put your hand in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Fleck says.

Other injuries include those to the eye and those caused by poisonous gas and from falls, but proper equipment can help reduce these. “There should never be an injury from a fall,” Fleck says.

Fleck recommends a proactive approach by providing training and thorough education for workover crew members. Though it’s improving, traditionally there’s been a lot of inexperience in the oilfield, which can contribute to injuries and accidents. “If you see a bad habit, end it,” he says.

Workers who, for instance, were bagging at a checkout line at a grocery store two weeks ago are now working with enormous oilfield equipment. Young workers see the promise of a job that pays well and don’t see how dangerous and difficult it can be. That’s why it’s especially important to watch inexperienced workers carefully — teach them good practices from the beginning. “It doesn’t do any good to preach to these kids in the emergency room,” Fleck says.

Supervisors need to be in tune with their crews — get to know them and walk among them on the job site. Supervisors who see workers having a bad day or becoming complacent should focus on them to prevent a potential accident.

“Make sure they know they have the authority to stop work,” Fleck says. Taking time to prevent mishaps helps more than just workers — injuries mean lost time on a job. In addition, experience is removed from the job site when a worker is injured.

OSHA’s website offers a number of safety tips for workers in the oil industry. Like Fleck’s advice, OSHA focuses on planning ahead and making sure workover rig employees are trained properly. A checklist also includes advice for route planning, checking equipment, and rigging a service rig. 


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