The dangers and challenges of an auger boring jobsite can often be tense topics of conversation. Despite the best efforts of crews and contractors to instill a culture of safety on a daily basis, accidents can happen. Nonetheless, any time individuals are working around large machinery – no matter the industry – there is always the threat of injury.

Industry Consultant Bill Malcolm places safety above all else when working around boring equipment. Mr Malcolm owned his own auger boring and directional drilling company until 2002, and made sure that every individual on his crews was fully trained.

“The lack of knowledge on how to avoid hazards is the biggest part of the equation,” Mr Malcolm says. “Knowledge is huge; it’s amazing how often I’ll go out on a job and there are not enough people with sufficient training.”

Mr Malcolm tried a variety of methods to train his crews, and learned through trial and error that the trainer is just as important as the trainees. After working with general safety trainers, he decided that using industry experts with a detailed knowledge of auger boring was the best approach. Industry experts were better able to explain how specific elements of boring applied to each individual, and could detail why safety steps were needed.

“The safety training was specific to auger boring, and it was realistic. If you don’t have that focused safety message, the information can be too much or too little, and then you are just wasting time,” Malcolm says.

Boring in Canada

With an increasing amount of technology coming down the pike and auger boring becoming more versatile, Jim Robinson, Contracting President has had to continually update his safety education. Mr Robinson began his own contracting company in Aisla Craig, Ontario, Canada, in 1988 after working in the underground construction field for 20 years. With decades of experience in the industry, Mr Robinson has seen an array of auger boring situations and provides a few basic safety tips.

“Teaching proper safety is a process that requires great patience. You have to reinforce an idea or behaviour for six weeks before it becomes habit. When we instituted the rule that all employees have to wear gloves all the time on a jobsite, we had to watch everybody for six weeks and remind them to keep the gloves on,” Mr Robinson says. “Once you explain to them that their job is on the line and if they don’t wear gloves, they don’t work here, it becomes second nature.”

Not only do they require gloves, but also safety glasses, boots and hard hats. Mr Robinson is not an advocate of safety vests for workers in the pit, as the loose-fitting items can catch on the equipment and become a hazard. Once the workers are outside the pit, safety vests are required, but eliminating any potential hazards around the auger boring rig is the top priority.

Handling hazardous situations

Of all the risks, Mr Robinson cites that machine rollovers and workers’ limbs catching in moving equipment as the most hazardous. He has seen firsthand what can happen when safety precautions are not strictly followed.

“One issue we see is people sustaining bodily harm after not following correct operation procedures. I met a guy who was severely injured because he put his hand in the machine without it being properly shut off,” Mr Robinson says.

Rollovers occur largely due to the torque created by an auger boring unit. According to Mr Malcolm, actions such as pre-boring and using the unit without the casings being attached can significantly increase the likelihood of rollovers.

Establishing a safe, well-supported pit can also be a significant difference-maker in enhancing safety.

“When setting up a bore pit, you need a pit bottom that will hold the machine for the duration of the job. If it’s a month, a concrete base may be necessary. If it’s just a few days, planks or steel plates may be a better option,” Mr Malcolm says.

Not only is the support important, but so is the size of the launch and exit pits. As a rule of thumb, a minimum 24 ft box should be dug for a 20 ft casing. By having sufficient length, a crew can remove the boring unit from the back of the pit in one piece.

Innovating and advancing auger boring

Advanced technologies and innovative ideas have also enhanced the degree of safety. Among those that Mr Robinson uses are hydraulic whaling systems. These systems include driving in sheet pilings and hooking them up to a hydraulic pump; there’s a hydraulic cylinder in each of the corners and after they push out, a lock valve can be shut. The hydraulic whaling system can shave weeks off of setup time when digging a shaft.

Bringing scissor lifts to the jobsite has also improved safety for Mr Robinson. The lifts have taken the place of ladders and allow the crew to lower three men into a pit, more safely and efficiently. They have also increased productivity and he estimates that they have paid off in only six months. The safety precautions continue after the boring begins.

Mr Robinson prefers to see only one person in the pit.

“Once you’ve got the casing started, there’s no reason for anyone but the operator to be in the pit. We use remote control systems so that even operators don’t need to be in the pit. Auger boring units can create so much rotational torque and weigh so much that once they start boring, you want to limit how many people get close to them,” he says.

Auger boring manufacturers are also dedicated to advancing machine design in order to improve safety. McLaughlin President of Boring Systems Dave Gasmovic says that over the years, significant improvements to the auger boring machine has helped minimised chances of rollover. McLaughlin redesigned its machine bodies to lower the profile and widen the base in order to improve the balance of the machine. Among other improvements are the dry hydraulic clutch system and an operator presence system that requires the operator to keep a hand on the clutch control. Once released, the machine will stop. This means the operator cannot walk away from the controls and leave the augers turning.

“Auger machines with mechanical clutch systems rely on the operator to pull a lever or actuate a valve handle. This loses time in disengaging the drive line and stopping a rollover. In the hydraulic clutch systems all the operator does is release the clutch trigger and the drive line disengages in milliseconds, not seconds, preventing rollovers,” says Mr Gasmovic. “A mechanical clutch will take seconds to disengage, and usually that is too late.”

Auger boring has been a great technological advancement for utility installation projects; it has given contractors the ability to maintain a clean, accurate bore. Even with such advancements in efficiency and quality, operators can never be too safe and must always remember to facilitate an environment in which all workers and equipment are protected.

At the end of the day, Mr Malcolm knows the focus of every job is safety.

“The real goal of safety is that everybody goes home every day, intact.”

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 of Trenchless International. For more information, please visit

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