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What to know about Roughnecks


If you are searching for the hardest and most stressful job especially as it concerns hard manual labour; look no further, the roughneck is what you are looking for.

Roughneck is a term used for a person whose occupation is hard manual labour. The term applies across a number of industries but is most commonly associated with the workers on a drilling rig. Originally, the term was used in the travelling carnivals of 19th-century United States, almost interchangeably with roustabout but by the 1930s, the terms had transferred to the oil drilling industry.

Interestingly, in the United Kingdom’s oil industry starting in the 1970s, roughneck specifically meant those who worked on the drill floor of a drilling rig handling specialized drilling equipment for drilling and pressure controls. However, in practice, these workers ranged from unskilled to highly skilled, depending subjectively on the individual worker’s aptitude and experience.

In oilfields, a roughneck’s duties can include anything involved with the connecting pipe down the well bore, as well as general work around a rig. The crew of a land-based oil rig can be further divided into several positions:

They include:

Toolpusher: This is the highest position at the drilling location and the person is responsible for every crew. A toolpusher may stay on location for a few days or weeks at a time during operations, whereas individual drilling crews work only eight- or 12-hour shifts or “tours”.

Driller: The head of an individual crew, responsible for controlling a rig’s machinery during drilling, as well as most other rig operations.

Derrickhand (derrick-man): Responsible for the drilling mud, the mud pits where drilling fluids are circulated around the system, and the mud pumps, as well as being the hand up in the derrick manipulating stands into and out of the fingers during tripping operations.

The individual acts as a lead for the driller who is mostly restricted to the rig floor. In many cases, the derrickman is exclusively responsible for work in the derrick during “tripping” pipe in and out of the hole.

Pit Watcher: Responsible for the drilling mud, the mud pits, and associated pumping/circulating of mud and various fluids through the pits, downhole and returning through the pits.

Motorman (motorhand): Responsible for maintenance of various engines, water pumps, water lines, steam lines, boilers and various other machinery incorporated into the rig on a daily basis. Also, they are responsible for the movement of equipment on site. On a four-man drilling crew, the motorman is also the chain hand.

Chainhand (Floorhand): This position is given to a floorhand that can also throw the chain that helps spin up the connections, but as of 2013 with some tasks being automated on the drilling rigs is pretty much just another floorhand that watches out for the worm and does not get as filthy.

Leadhand/Floorhand (“worm”): Usually the lowest member of the drilling crew, those in this position are often nicknamed “worm” because this hand has the dirtiest and most physically demanding position. The floorhand works primarily on the rig floor where he is the one actually operating the tongs, iron roughneck, tugger, and catwalk, and doing pretty much any other job which is asked of him.

Roustabout (lease hand): On bigger rigs and offshore rigs, a roustabout does most of the painting and cleaning so roughnecks can take care of other work.

Iron Roughneck is also a piece of specialized equipment used in oil drilling operations. Whether the pipe is being fed into the wellbore or it is being taken out, the iron roughneck uses a rotary table and torque wrench (es) to make up or break downpipe.

Being a roughneck requires a lot of attention, speed and accuracy especially as any slight mistake could hamper the oil drilling process.

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