Since it was established in 1976, the British Drilling Association (BDA) has endeavoured to raise standards, improve safety and promote all-round best practice in the drilling industry.
With the words ‘Gentlemen we now have the BDA’, Brian England of Hands-England Drilling, closed the inaugural meeting on 22 October 1976. All present at the meeting at the London Geological Society could not have visualised what the Association would ultimately achieve.
The British Drilling Association’s (BDA) formation was governed by a real desire to give strength and a voice to the drilling industry – it would be stronger than its collective parts and deal with matters of common interest more effectively, particularly with regards to Health & Safety and Standards. In its early days, the manufacturers dominated through their wide industry connections and could quickly express a view on the fragmented contractor market. During the 70s and 80s mineral/coal drilling was buoyant in the UK and the membership reflected this. The UK manufacturing sector was strong, with companies such as Boyles; Hands-England; Dando; Hydreq; Craelius; Van Moppes etc. Many characters existed in the industry with much knowledge of drilling technical matters and engineering experience, and the BDA’s then very capable first Secretary, Barry Johnson, acted as conductor to an orchestra whose different sections often turned up without their instruments; had the wrong scores; were tone deaf and lacked musical training.
During the late 80s and into the early 90s the BDA came of age, at a time when there was a surge in requirements for drilling operatives’ competence to be assessed; training provision; quality to be improved, and accident levels to be reduced. Ground Investigation contractors, with particular needs, became more important in the BDA with the decline of the mineral/coal/manufacturing sector. As a result, the BDA Driller Accreditation Scheme was launched in 1990; a BDA-endorsed Training Centre (RTD) established, and the Code of Safe Drilling Practice and Guidance Notes on Contaminated Land were published in 1992.
During the 90s there were major economic forces at work in the UK drilling industry. International work was declining; the home mining industry was being spectacularly decimated; major civils work was in short supply, when compared to previous times, and the manufacturing industry suffered accordingly. The BDA was not immune to this, as failures, closures and rationalisation reduced its membership. More importantly, individuals who previously had time to give to the BDA, were retiring; too occupied in their own survival and businesses; departing this world, or no longer interested. The late 90s produced little as a result and the BDA financial reserves were almost depleted.
Entering the 21st Century, and with only its second ever Secretary, Brian Stringer (appointed 1999), there was a resurgence of activity. New blood was recruited onto the Committees and all office functions centralised. Health & Safety legislation; the need for a new drilling crew competence standard (National Vocational Qualifications, BDA AUDIT); upsurge of different drilling activity (‘window sampling’; new percussive techniques; horizontal directional drilling; geothermal etc.) generated the need for the BDA to be more proactive.
A succession of new initiatives and achievements was rolled out – not least the first ever Apprenticeship Scheme in 2007. Financial reserves climbed to protect the BDA’s future. The internal and external profile of the Association was much improved.
In 2008 the UK was hit by severe recession, but the BDA was able to maintain its work, which included the introduction of the new ‘Eurocode’ geotechnical Standards. Geothermal Drilling for ground source heat pumps started to become more significant, and the BDA was much involved in developing training for this activity.
Brian Stringer retired in January 2014, after nearly 15 years of service, and Keith Banton was appointed Executive Secretary in February 2014 with the BDA office moved to Nottinghamshire.
From its typical ‘male’ origins, the BDA has moved on to reflect the now more diverse nature of the drilling and wider construction sector. This was reflected with the BDA’s first female Chair and Managing Director of Raeburn Drilling, Anne Baxter, who brought a breath of fresh air to the Association, as well as being a role model for women working in or considering a career in construction.
The contribution of committee member Natalie Bews, Senior Engineering Geologist, Structural Soils Ltd has also been significant in championing the role women can play in construction and the BDA would like to encourage more women to contribute.
Since its beginnings in the 70’s, the BDA has worked with its members and in collaboration with industry bodies to develop all manner of guidance documents, training, and support tools that have elevated the drilling sector as one of the most professional and trusted within the specialist contract industry.
The history of the BDA cannot be fully written yet, only updated. Anticipating change; introducing and managing it are the BDA’s strengths, and future members will judge how well that has been done.