What Does a Derrickhand Do?

Dan Cavallari

A derrickhand is a member of an oil drilling team that works high above the drilling platform. His primary job function is to help steady the pipes being inserted into the well, to work in conjunction with the driller to ensure the process goes smoothly from start to finish, and to train other drilling team members. The job of a derrickhand is a dangerous one, as he or she will work high above the drilling platform, up to 85 feet (26 meters) in the air, and the potential for a dangerous fall is extremely high.

A derrickhand works on an oil drilling platform.
A derrickhand works on an oil drilling platform.

A person can become a derrickhand by working his or her way up through the drilling team. Someone may start at the entry level position known as a roustabout; this person is responsible for a variety of manual labor jobs, such as cleaning or cooking meals. Eventually, the roustabout can work his or her way up to a roughneck position, which means better pay and more responsibility. Motorhands are people who work on the various equipment on a rig, repairing or maintaining motors, gears, and various tools. Once a person has become proficient at being a motorhand, he or she may be promoted to derrickhand, which is a position that pays better and offers more responsibility and seniority.

A derrickhand's safety equipment may include a hard hat.
A derrickhand's safety equipment may include a hard hat.

The derrickhand answers directly to the driller, who is responsible for running the drilling process overall. He or she is essentially the manager of the drilling rig, which means the derrickhand can act as the second in command. The specific job functions of derrickhands can vary from platform to platform, especially on drilling rigs that are highly automated and require less hands-on attention. When not attending to the drilling process, derrickhands may work with mud loggers to ensure the mixture of mud in the well is correct; this means monitoring the amount of chemicals and other materials in the well and adjusting them accordingly to prevent breakdown of the drill or other undue stresses on the piping.

When working high on the drilling mast, the derrickhand must wear a safety harness to help prevent falls. As the drilling pipes are raised, this person must lean off the platform toward the pipe, grab it and pull it into its storage location until it is ready for use again. This means the worker is constantly reaching outward toward a moving pipe that can be up to 90 feet (27 meters) long. Other safety equipment he or she must wear includes a hard hat, goggles, and a contamination suit.

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