Exit pit worker entangled in horizontal directional drill back reamer

Iowa Case Report: 05IA019
Report Date: July 3, 2008

The following report is the product of our Cooperative State partner and is presented here in its original unedited form from the state. The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the individual Cooperative State partner and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.


A 34-year-old man was fatally injured while working in a four-man crew installing a large diameter water line along a rural Iowa roadway mid spring of 2005. The crew was using a horizontal directional drilling (HDD) machine to pilot bore and pull back pipe (the product line) underneath a wooded area (Photo 1). After completion of the pilot bore, the exit pit worker was alone in the exit pit 600 feet (183 m) from the drill rig operator. The worker removed the drill bit to attach a back reamer to the end of the drill rod. A pulling head was attached to the pipe and a swivel between the pulling head and the back reamer completed the connection between the HDD machine and the product line pipe. The drill rig operator radioed the exit pit worker asking if he was ready for the reamer to be rotated and for the pullback or back-reaming operation to begin. The exit pit worker responded affirmatively. Soon after engaging power, the operator radioed to learn how the reamer was progressing but there was no response. The operator halted power to the drill line and radioed for help to check on the exit pit worker. The supervisor discovered the victim’s body wrapped around the drill line in the area of the pre-cutter just ahead of the back reamer.

Exit pit worker entangled in horizontal directional drill back reamerpdf icon [PDF 137 KB]

Page last reviewed: November 18, 2015