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Monthly Archives: December 2014

Implementing a Dropped Object Prevention Scheme on Land Drilling Rigs


I recently heard through the grapevine of another oil and gas fatality where something fell out of a land based drilling rig, striking the worker, who died. I can’t find anything in the news here in Alberta, so I assume it must have been in another jurisdiction.

Recently, we received a phone call from a colleague who works for another safety company here in Alberta. Our colleague stated that a contractor was looking to implement a Dropped Object Prevention Scheme (DROPs) on a few rigs in Alberta. The contractor seemed to think that it would be possible to create another form to meet their due diligence requirements. It’s not that simple, and in this post, I’ll try to show you the basics for implementing a DROPs program for your company.

In case you’re wondering, DROPs is a global initiative in the offshore oil and gas industry, where major owning companies and drilling contractors share best practices to mitigate dropped objects. In the offshore oil and gas industry, dropped objects are responsible for 25% of all injuries and fatalities, so it makes sense to attack these hazards. Each company varies in their approach to dropped object prevention, but it typically consists of the following:

1. A list of overhead hazards, their exposure to vibration and corrosion, and some means to assess risk.
2. An inspection regime to inspect items at a frequency shorter than their expected failure rate.
3. Control measures to limit worker exposure to working at heights and overhead hazards.
4. Permitting systems for non routine work at heights.
5. The use of tethered tools and training to improve their utilization.
6. Procedures and protocols to eliminate potential targets, such as workers on the rig floor while overhead work is underway.

The DROPs consciousness is ingrained in offshore drilling rigs, but it hasn’t seen wide adoption on land rigs, especially here in Alberta. It begins with the industry training available through ENFORM as Fall Protection for Rig Work. I’ve taken this course, and it’s a great course, but the focus is on preventing people from falling. There is little attention paid to the use of tools overhead.

This industry training gap manifests in the workplace whenever we send workers with tools up the derrick to do some work. We will ask if the new worker has a valid Fall Protection for Rig Work certificate, then send him up on the Manrider winch with a grease gun and 12 lb sledgehammer to tighten the hammer union on the goose neck swivel. The worker has training on how to prevent himself from falling, but nothing around how to use tools at heights to prevent dropped objects.

1. Setting Up a DROPs System

If you want to set up a DROPs regime for a land based drilling rig, everything starts with a DROPs policy. Does your company have a policy that governs the inspection of overhead hazards, worker training and job procedures? Once your policy has been vetted and approved by management, it gains some teeth and you can start implementing an inspection regime.

2. Examine the Rig Lifecycle

A drilling rig has a lifecycle for each hole that encompasses rig up, pinning the derrick to the A-Legs, raising the derrick, spudding the well, driling surface hole, drilling intermediate hole, tripping in/out, drilling the horizontal section, jarring, fishing, laying down pipe and rig out, to name a few. Each of these operations come with their own hazards. You want to look at the rig lifecycle to understand when you should be able to perform inspections of overhead hazards. For example, it might make sense to inspect your overhead self retracting life lines when the derrick is laid over, depending on your rig. Your inspection regime should mirror your operations, something like the following:

A. Pre-raise Derrick Inspection Checklist (Focus on lifting and rigging equipment)
B. Pre-spud Checklist (Fall arrest systems)
C. Post-surface hole inspection (Overhead pins)
D. Post jarring/fishing inspection (Top drive – mechanical)
E. Crown Service, Slip & Cut mega joule records (Wire line records, weekly crown service “top down” inspection)
F. Rig Move (BOP slings, bridle lines, crown sheaves)

3. Examine Worker Exposure to Overhead Hazards

Every drilling rig has hundreds of overhead items that should be identified, catalogued, photographed and assessed for their Dropped Object Consequence. The Dropped Object Consequence Calculator is based on simple physics. It takes the height of the object, plus its weight, and classifies the consequence in terms of risk, whether that’s First Aid, Medical Aid, Days away from Work or Fatality.

Drops Calc

How do you do this? First, you start with an inventory of all overhead items such as derrick pins, tong sheaves, turnbuckles, light fixtures, third party antennas, hand rails, and so on. You should come up with a list of at least 40 items on a large triple. Once you have gathered these items, you’ll need to estimate their height and weight to come up with a risk profile of each item. If you want to get really fancy with yor risk analysis, you can consider the exposure to vibration effects, and the amount of time workers spend under them. If your HSE Department really wants to drill down into the data, you can plop the info into a spreadsheet to begin assigning quantities to these risks. Here’s a screenshot from my spreadsheet:


This step might seem like overkill, but it does reveal some counter-intuitive results. Specifically, this spreadsheet exercise revealed that a 500 ml water bottle in the monkey boards was one of the most significant overhead hazards. (If you go back to the DROPs calculator, you’ll see that a 1-2 pound object 90 feet up will put you in the red).

4. Overhead Tools and Training

We are going to send the Motorman up the Manrider Winch with a 12 lb sledgehammer to tighten some hammer unions on the goose neck swivel. Some rigs will lockout the brake handle and clear the rig floor of all personnel in case the sledgehammer drops. Establishing a “Red Zone” like this is a good first step, but what are some other things to consider? How about: is the sledgehammer a tethered sledge, is the tether long enough, is it strong enough, and what is it anchored to? Second, how do we document that the Sledgehammer was signed out and returned, and not left somewhere overhead, such as on top of the top drive?

Every rig should have a DROPs toolkit of tools specifically engineered to have an anchor point for a tether. But not all rigs are equipped with such a kit. You can establish these kits by asking your rig crews which tools they use the most. Alternately, you can contact a reputable vendor to find out what other companies are using in their tethered tool kits.


5. Making the DROPs System Work

A DROPs safety management program will have several key components to make it work, and everything starts with Policy.

a. POLICY – A policy that outlines Management’s commitment to minimizing worker exposure to overhead hazards and dropped object prevention. The policy should be signed by the owner and displayed in the workplace.

b. INSPECTION – Considering the lifecycle of a rig as it drills a well, what are the most opportune times to inspect each item? A series of 3 year, 1 year, per well, monthly, weekly and daily checks, and who is responsible for them, will ensure that overhead hazards are being mitigated.

c. EQUIPMENT AND TRAINING – Preventing tools overhead from falling requires proper training. Workers should know how to use tools overhead, understand primary and secondary means of securement, and most of all, they should understand exactly what they are looking for when inspecting an item. This can be accomplished with hands on training, a visual inspection guide and ongoing mentoring by a qualified individual.

d. ACCOUNTABILITY – All workers should read, understand and commit to the organization’s DROPs policy, which subjects them to the disciplinary procedure for non-compliance. Control measures that encourage workers to hold eachother accountable can also be implemented to make the system self-monitoring.


Setting up a DROPs program can be a significant undertaking, but with the right guidance and training, your company doesn’t need to fumble through the process. As qualified DROPS Train The Trainers, we can do the following:

– Help create your DROPs policy
– Conduct an overhead hazards survey
– Quantify the risks involved
– Set up a rig-specific toolkit
– Train workers in the use of tools
– Set up Trainers within your organization to make the system self-sustaining

For more information, send us an email at with “DROPS” in the subject heading.