Don’t think it could ever happen to you? Neither did this rig manager

To cause a ripple is to ignite a series of events or actions that, without interference, can alter what a person identifies as reality. John Soley has firsthand experience in what this cosmic effect can do to a person’s life, family and livelihood. At the 2010 IADC Health, Safety, Environment & Training Conference on 27 January in Houston, Mr Soley, alongside friend and colleague Kathryn Puckett, stood up and became interventionists for all who listened to this cautionary tale.

On his way up in the industry, a 37-year-old rig manager and family man with a helpful attitude had everything to lose. Mr Soley suffered life-threatening injuries on 27 August 2001 on his rig during a routine life boat inspection. He was attempting to help Jack, the rig safety training coordinator (RSTC), in securing the life boat back to the rig. But an error in communication resulted in a tragic incident involving severe trauma to Mr Soley’s head and brain.

When asked at the conference what he could have done to prevent the incident, Mr Soley said jokingly to the crowd, “(I could have been) a good supervisor and stayed inside and drank coffee, but, no, I gotta go help out.”

Mr Soley never thought this kind of accident would happen to him. Jack was simply going about his work and didn’t look up to see Mr Soley standing there near the crank. It only took the push of a button to release the crank, leaving deep gashes in Mr Soley’s skull.

“Just stop and think for a minute and think about what’s your perception on your safety? Are you like (the person) that sits in a safety meeting and wears dark glasses because you’ve heard it all before? Or are you like John where you are looking out for the other guy?” Ms Puckett asked.

But each and every one of us can become “the other guy,” the one who gets hurt. It’s a thought that Mr Soley attempts to ingrain into each person who hears his story. “I’m not sure how many of you have thought about how it would affect you, not only if you had an accident like this, but what if you caused an accident?”

During the presentation, Ms Puckett read a script written by Jack detailing his perception of what happened that day and the amount of guilt he felt for contributing to Mr Soley’s injuries:

“As RSTC, John’s care fell on me. I had basic first-aid training plus emergency CPR, and I knew I was way over my head to be holding hands with a man, a man that was losing consciousness and probably dying. Plus, I felt the added pressure as I thought I was the one who had pushed the button and ended this man’s life.”

Because of bad weather that day, it was two hours before Mr Soley could be transported off the offshore rig for medical treatment. Surgery to remove his damaged brain tissues lasted five hours, and he spent three weeks in a coma.

Post-surgery, Mr Soley had to put on this helmet every time he got out of bed because he had no skull on the right side of his head, only skin. “And when I got back into bed, I would take it off and throw it against the wall,” he recalled.
Post-surgery, Mr Soley had to put on this helmet every time he got out of bed because he had no skull on the right side of his head, only skin. “And when I got back into bed, I would take it off and throw it against the wall,” he recalled. Pictured from left alongside Soley are son Brock, daughter Lauren, wife Tracy, and mother-in-law Janet Middleton.

It took a full year before Mr Soley was allowed to make a day visit home; each time he returned to rehab more determined to make his stay at home permanent. “Every time I got out of bed, I had to have this helmet on because I had no skull piece (on the right side of my skull). All I had was skin. If I fell, it would have been lights out forever. And when I got back into bed, I would take it off and throw it against the wall.”

Mr Soley also had to re-learn the most basic of things – how to eat, tie his shoes, talk and walk. “The small things you take for granted, please stop now. You put your socks and shoes on every morning. Well, I tell you what, folks, it’s not the easiest thing in the world for me to do in the morning, but I get it done. In rehab, I had to re-learn how to do it again. It’s amazing what happens when you have to start over again.”

Mr Soley also stressed the value of understanding and abiding by safety policies and procedures. “All of these policies and procedures, I know now where they come from: Someone has to get hurt. Each of the policies and procedures is written with somebody’s blood.”

Mr Soley and Ms Puckett have told this story to 60 audiences, and their goal is to make an impact and make people aware. “We would like to make a difference in lives by helping the worker see that the most important thing to them, their family, is also their reason to work safe. Exposing the worker to the pain the family endures if the worker is hurt or killed brings a new dimension to their reason for working safe.”

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  1. For similar reason we had an AB killed some 35 years ago and I thought all lifebout hand cranks switch off the power when inserted in the crank tubing. If this is not the case then they should be installed and tested regularly.

  2. 20 years ago, also whilst a Toolpusher (aka Rig Manager) I suffered a strikingly similar, but thankfully far less serious, head injury whilst stacking a land rig. In a bizarre combination of inappropriate equipment and being in a place where I did not need to be, a bent shaft through a drum of drilling line was contacted by the forklift truck and spun like a propeller, hitting me in the head and rendering me unconscious. The FLT driver was not even aware of my presence and, but for the intervention of the rig crew, also nearly ran me over whilst laying on the ground. To this day I suffer a total loss of hearing (and balance) on one side and no sense of smell. Lesson Learned: when instructing inexperienced rig crews Supervisors may have to go places where they would not normally be and must consider their actions very seriously before proceeding.

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