During drilling, crew communications should consistently start and stop at the driller’s station, because they are the starting point for every drill process.

Consider the past 50 years and all the ways people communicate. New technology, systems and methodologies have changed the course of history. However, one factor has remained the same and has been the overarching key to success — effective communication. Looking at the next 50 years, the future of exploration drilling projects will only be successful with efficient workplace collaboration, according to drilling equipment and services provider Boart Longyear.

Communication can often be overlooked as an essential factor of success because it is something that is done every day. Here are seven tips for effective communication to help keep a team in check, and ultimately exceed project goals and objectives.

On-site Communication

Ensure all members of the drill crew understand the chain of communication. – During the drilling process, communication starts and stops at the driller’s controls. The driller is responsible for all procedures and tasks on the job site and is aware of every process. The driller also prioritizes tasks and communicates this to the entire team.

This chain of communication works because the drill crew knows the driller is the starting point for every process. The driller is the first to observe changes downhole communicated by the drill rig and the tooling, and then he/she transfers critical information to the rest of the on-site team.

Ensure all members of the drill crew understand the drilling process. – In the past, it was not uncommon for the supervisor (foreman), driller and the driller assistant to be the only crew members to understand the drilling process. The rest of the drill crew was only expected to understand job site-specific daily tasks and general safety requirements.

The old-world argument warns that educating all members onsite can lead to the possibility of leaking job-site information and trade secrets to the competition. This antiquated way of operating created an information silo of many under-invested employees. A 21st century drilling team understands that it’s more important to hire team members who exhibit honesty and integrity, increasing the level of trust and ensuring critical information remains safe.

Furthermore, a thoroughly educated drill team can interpret and react faster. These teams anticipate catastrophic rig failures or downhole issues and implement corrective measures. When a drill team is properly trained and understands the drilling process, its members can safely take preventative actions to minimize problem events that could potentially impact the project.

Align verbal and non-verbal communication. – It starts with all members on-site using common job-site terminology and safety language. That language changes depending on the region, rig manufacturer and level of the crew’s professionalism.

Consider the word “Stop!” A familiar command everywhere, but in the U.S., for example, it’s not uncommon for a drill crew to use “Whoa!” Both terms mean “halt all activities” and can be utilized safely when team members are aware of both interpretations and use.

Often 80% of all communication on a noisy job site is by non-verbal signals. Operators, along with spotters, must be able to see and signal each other when it’s challenging to hear verbal commands. Hand signals are a useful form of communication if everyone employs the same signs. An experienced drill team can operate safely and effectively for hours on-site while speaking very few words and utilizing industry-standard hand signals. Crews that use hoisting and heavy equipment operation signals have much lower near-miss and recordable incident rates than crews that use random hand signals like waving to one another.

Off-site Communication

Develop a strategic plan for external communication. – Effective external communication starts with knowing which type of customer is being engaged and what information they require. This dynamic changes based on confidentiality of information. The project information relayed to the senior geologist or the project customer will rarely be the same as the information given to the neighboring landowner or the public.

A drilling crew should have a defined communication plan that starts with asking who a visitor is, so they can understand why they are on-site, followed by directing the visitor to the right representative. The big fear is that “the new guy” might relay incorrect data to the customer or pass on confidential information to a stranger. This is why it’s essential to have a strategic plan for external communications and remind the on-site drilling team of that communication plan daily.

Ensure the drill crew is aware of abnormal operating conditions. – Good communication begins with the team knowing all abnormal operating conditions for environmental, health, and safety (EHS) considerations and adherence.

An abnormal operating condition, for example, could stem from working in an environmentally sensitive area, which would limit the hours of operation for equipment that exceeds 80 decibels of noise. If a rancher arrives on-site at dark with a flashlight saying that the drill is interrupting his livestock’s sleep, it is crucial to know the rules before engaging with him.

Often on an established drilling site, this information is presented as a site-specific orientation by the customer. However, on smaller single-hole projects, the only EHS information is found in the contract.

Understand the goals and objectives of all parties involved. – Drilling is a disruptive process that changes the location forever. Once a drill starts cutting the ground, the chain of communication quickly expands from the customer, to possibly the neighboring property owner, to corporate officials, to regulatory government agencies. Each party requires different information to properly oversee job completion.

Complex projects in remote locations require a diverse staff to complete the job successfully. The men and women involved have a common goal of success, however, they have individual objectives and information to gather before the job is complete. When all parties involved understand their goals, and the goals of others through proper communication, project success increases exponentially.

Listening to Respond Vs. Listening to Understand

Listen to understand, don’t listen to respond. – Effective communication is fully understanding what is being said before answering. It’s easy to assume what information the customer wants and have a response ready, but often crucially relative information is lost while listening to respond.

Communication requires cooperation to be effective, just as a drilling project can only be successful when the drill team, customer, neighbor and regulator all work together.

This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Insite Digest, Boart Longyear’s monthly electronic newsletter. It has been lightly edited for length and content.