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A Day in the Life of a Driller

Michael ‘Jock’ Randall is a senior lead driller who has worked for SOCOTEC for over 15 years.  He gained his NVQ Level 2 Land Drilling (Lead Driller) in 2005, operating a Cable Percussion drill rig and, in 2018, he began training as a rotary lead driller.

Do you have a typical day?

I’m quite lucky in that my days are quite well planned. Site regulations mean that we must be on and off site at pre-determined times.  Many of the contracts we’re working on are extensive, so there are lots of different functions on site and the schedule of work is quite complex. Our work has to fit in around others and to be delivered on schedule so that there aren’t any knock-on effects.

The beginning of a new job can mean an early start, as we have to drive to the site, but once we’re there, we know how long we’ll be away for and what we’ll be working on.

Where I’m working at the moment is a major project with about 50 people on site including us, our subcontractors and the client’s staff. There’s a bit of a laugh and a joke before everyone gets their head down to work, it’s a nice environment to work in.

How did you start out as a driller?

I chose to go into drilling because I found geography and geology really fascinating and thought a job which allowed me to find out more would be interesting. When I started out, around 15 years ago, I was a cable percussion driller. This involves a manual drilling technique in which a heavy cutting or hammering bit attached to a rope or cable is lowered in the open hole or inside a temporary casing. I am now training as rotary driller, for this we use a rotating drill system to cut a borehole into the ground and extract the core. The purpose of drilling the boreholes is to gain a greater understanding of the profile of soils, structural details of rocks and the presence of voids within the ground, all of which have an impact on the project’s delivery.

What types of projects do you work on?

Working for a company like SOCOTEC means we have access to a greater variety of projects and as such the projects we are involved in are incredibly varied. The methods of drilling generally stay the same but can be used on a wide variety of different projects from construction to environment and exploration. The drillers will be on site throughout the project and projects can vary in length, for example the project I am currently on has lasted seven months so far.

An example of a project worked on by the geotechnical team is the high profile, Thames Tideway project, London’s super sewer spanning 25km under the river Thames.  SOCOTEC was brought on board to assess five sites in the eastern section of the project prior to work being carried out. These included the site of one of the shafts at Chambers Wharf in the Borough of Southwark, where SOCOTEC supported the client identifying optimum construction solutions, offering detailed information about the state of the material due to be removed, helping the client to understand exactly what to expect during excavation enabling them to fully plan the construction process.

What kind of machinery do you use?

At the moment, we’re drilling with a wireline coring system, which I love. I had the opportunity to attend a training session from the manufacturer at the start of the job which was really interesting and gave me a good knowledge of a new system. 

One of the benefits of being with a company like SOCOTEC is their ability to invest in quality equipment. We’ve recently added a new rotary drill rig to our fleet, a Comacchio GEO405HT rotary drilling rig, which is the sixth rotary rig purchase in four years. Following trials of Drilling Parameter Recording (DPR) systems over the last 12 months, SOCOTEC has also just become one of the only UK Ground Investigation contractors to have “DIALOG Version 5” fitted to a fleet of rotary drilling rigs.

How do you feel about working for a company like SOCOTEC?

The support network we have is excellent and that is one of the best things about drilling with SOCOTEC. Our supervisors and managers are very experienced and always on hand to give help and advice. The majority of the team are employed directly by SOCOTEC, which gives us a level of professionalism that you don’t always find onsite. We take pride in our work and this is evident in the quality of the output. Having someone recognise how organised we are is something that makes me feel good about my job.

The focus is on quality and SOCOTEC recognises that we are the experts in what we do. As well as experience in the role, I have also achieved my NVQ Level 2 in Land Drilling so when it’s time to set out the logistics and management of a project, we are seen as trusted members of the team who are consulted and can advise on our areas of expertise.

How does your role fit in with the broader project delivery?

We work closely with the project management team to ensure that timescales are understood and we won’t overrun. As a senior lead driller, I can give input to the planning process to ensure that we are efficient as we can be so any downtime is avoided or minimised.

It’s nice to have reached a point where I can make that kind of contribution to a project and to ensure our team works in the best way possible.

Your son is just starting out as a driller, what advice have you given him, or would you give to someone thinking of this career?

It’s a great job for someone who wants to be hands-on, working alongside a good team of people on some fantastic construction projects across the UK. You can’t avoid the fact that you have to be happy to get muddy! You can’t drill a hole without getting a bit dirty, but nothing that can’t be washed off at the end of the day.

If you are interested, the best advice I could give would be to start straight away and gain experience onsite. The qualifications can be achieved as you work. In fact, SOCOTEC is currently looking to provide in-house training for the NVQ in Land Drilling.

Click here for more information on the drilling services SOCOTEC offers. 

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