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Hazards Involved in the Horizontal Directional Drilling Process

A horizontal directional drill is a tool used to install pipes, cables and ducts underground, and you can learn more about how they work in our guide to HDDs. It may be used where traditional excavations are not suitable, for example in dense, urban areas. Due to decreased visibility and the intense nature of the drilling process, there are many potential hazards involved in horizontal directional drilling. Here at Vermeer, we think it is vital that any potential hazards are analysed before conducting drilling work.

Potential hazards involved in the horizontal directional drilling process

Whilst horizontal drilling may be more cost effective compared to traditional open trench excavations, it may be trickier to avoid utility lines due to limited visibility. This is referred to as a utility strike where the drill may hit an electricity or gas line. This could lead to electrocution, a gas leak, or even an explosion. A utility strike may also cause serious disruption to utility supplies, as well as incurring increased costs due to a project being delayed.

There can be different types of utility strike depending on the kind of utility line that has been affected:

  • Electrical strikes - where an electric line has been affected. These can be incredibly dangerous and must be taken into careful consideration when drilling horizontally.
  • Gas strike - this occurs when a drill accidently hits the gas line. Due to the highly flammable nature of gas.
  • Sewer and water line strikes can also occur during drilling, which may lead to a leakage of sewage which can be hazardous to the local environment and inhabitants.


Machinery hazards

Although the horizontal directional drilling process is usually considered trenchless, there are occasions where a trench may need to be dug to accommodate machinery or equipment. It is imperative that workers are not between a machine and trench when the drill is being used, in case the machinery jolts or moves unexpectedly.

Environmental hazards

Environmental hazards must also be considered during horizonal directional drilling. if not carried out properly, local wildlife and ecosystems may be disrupted. Furthermore, if there was a utility leak, this may cause damage to the local environment.

Drilling fluid (often referred to as drilling mud) is used to lubricate the drill bit when drilling into the earth. If this leaks this can also cause unwanted environmental damage.

Noise hazards

Noise is another hazard associated with horizontal directional drilling. As with a lot of machinery, there can be a significant amount of noise created. This can be incredibly disruptive to local communities, but also to workers who are protected under the Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005.


How to avoid horizontal directional drilling hazards

The Health and Safety Executive recommends a safe system of underground work, covering these three topics:

  • Planning the work
  • Detecting, identifying and marking underground services
  • Safe excavation practices

Continuous monitoring of the drill path, inspecting equipment and training employees can help prevent potential hazards.  It may also be worth potholing to identify underground utility lines. Potholing allows operators to verify the depth of utility lines near the proposed drilling area. Verifying where the lines are helps to prevent any damage and therefore further accidents.

Carrying out a risk assessment and considering safety at all times is crucial in order to prevent hazards occurring on site.


Horizontal directional drilling provides a great alternative to traditional methods of excavation. However, the potential horizontal directional drilling safety be considered to ensure protection from dangers associated with it. Explore our range of horizontal directional drills here.

To find out more about the range of horizontal directional drills offered by Vermeer, you can contact our team of experts on 01933 274400 or email us at Alternatively, fill out an enquiry form with details of your request and we’ll get back to you.

Vermeer Corporation delivers a real impact on the way important work gets done through the design, manufacture and support of high quality industrial and agricultural equipment that helps connect people to the necessities of life, manage natural resources and feed and fuel communities. With a reputation for being built tough and built a better way, that equipment is backed by localized customer service and support provided by independent dealers around the world. To learn about Vermeer Corporation, products, the dealer network, financing options and careers, visit 


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