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Regular Checks Lead to Consistent Safety

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Nancy Golden
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Regulating Safety and Adding Redundancy
Nancy Golden   12/11/2013 3:23:55 PM
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"As this isn't the first occurrence, it shows that instead of relying on internal checks, third-party organizations must be given more power to check out instrumentation and shut down operations. With a government body responsible for the checks, disasters can be prevented as there will be no reason to cut corners if they want to continue operating. A dedicated organization will protect the safety of the workers and the environment."

While I would rather not add to the list of government regualtion - unfortunately this is true. While companies should have enough internal expertise to assure safety - often that is not the case. Having an upcoming OSHA inspection has motivated many otherwise uninterested companies into seeking appropriate safety initiatives. It seems to me that redundancy is also an important factor that needs to be implemented - especially in critical areas.

William K.
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Platinum
Re: Regulating Safety and Adding Redundancy
William K.   12/12/2013 11:03:36 AM
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I would agree that having an ever expanding net of government regulations is not the best choice, nor evan a worthwhile option. But certainly increasing the penalties to the point where shortcuts are not worthwhile would be a big step in the right direction.

Improving reliability and stability in measurement systems is often quite expensive, many times to the point that a redundant system is a cheaper way to reach the desired accuracy and reliability. At least that is what I have found in some indistrial systems over the years. We can draw an example from both the aviation and nuclear indistries about that. Where there is no room for failure the triple redundant system can deliver a much better level of reliability, while at the same time it can reduce the cost of maintenance by avoiding the need for shutdowns. Some managers in some plants have been eager to get the improved reliability, since it certainly makes a manager look good for a plant to have no failures or accidents that cause damages. But some only can see the next months cost reports and they just are not willing to invest in making a system more reliable.

(I use the term "reliable" to include both correct functionality AND remaining within required accuracy). Not everybody uses that definition.

Nancy Golden
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Platinum
Re: Regulating Safety and Adding Redundancy
Nancy Golden   12/12/2013 11:41:10 AM
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I think William's statement, "But certainly increasing the penalties to the point where shortcuts are not worthwhile would be a big step in the right direction" is key. During my years working in the semiconductor industry, I saw lots of things done that were not necessarily the safest way to do them, but worked because "it's the way we have always done it" and they were blessed that no one had gotten hurt (a particlar incident with needing to get to the chip level of an IC and sulferic acid in the FA Lab comes to mind - I had no problem saying no, I am not going to do it that way) and the problem is - it is hard to get people to quit doing shortcuts that have worked for them in the past. If an employee is uncomfortable doing something or seeing something, they may be afraid to speak up and rock the boat - they don't want to put their livelihood at risk. Lay offs are rampant in the semiconductor industry and no one wants to be put on the list for the next one...the fixes have to come from management but the problem is, manangement may be the culprit encouraging the shortcuts to save time and money.


TJ McDermott
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Blogger
There is only one way
TJ McDermott   12/12/2013 1:41:34 AM
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I'm with Nancy, I'd avoid more government regulation if I could.

I think there is only one way to get corporations to pay attention - SIGNIFICANT penalties for breaking regulations.  The ONLY thing that corporations care about is the bottom line.

As an analogy - think of what would happen if the penalty for being caught talking/texting on your phone was not a $150 fine, but rather 10 years in prison.  Phone usage while driving would stop cold.

If this is a problem worth solving, then the penalties should be strict.  Perhaps the CEO should be held resposnsible and punished accordingly.  They're earning large salaries, there should be responsibility to go with it.

Corporations already enjoy rights that were origininally intended for human citizens.  If corporations enjoy such rights, they should also bear the penalties.  If a human can be sentenced to capital punishment, why not apply something similar (say, dissolution) to a corporation?

Or, how about confiscating all profits of a company for a period, split between injured parties and the government?  The company continues, employees retain their job, but shareholders do not earn anything.

We might have regulation enough now, but let's see some realistic punishment to go with it.

GTOlover
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Platinum
Re: There is only one way
GTOlover   12/12/2013 8:54:21 AM
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TJ, I agree with you on holding corporations responsible. However, I would also add that we need to hold government responsible as well. It seems to many in the beuracracy can be bought. It is time that government overseers are held responsible when their oversight is shown to be fluff. But even this scares me as the unintended consequence is a balloning of regulations and procedures mandated on businesses that would effectively kill any kind of industry that is remotely dangerous.

It is easy for us and the blogger to demand more, but it is the people that need to be alert and force the corrections. If I thought the instrumentation and maintanence at a refinery was questionable, I would not be silent and would either be fired or quit for my own safety.

tekochip
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Platinum
Re: There is only one way
tekochip   12/12/2013 9:16:11 AM
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The Supreme Court now says that corporations are the same as people.  Maybe they can send the corporation to prison?


TJ McDermott
User Rank
Blogger
Re: There is only one way
TJ McDermott   12/12/2013 11:22:41 AM
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tekochip, in some way or form, YES.  If an entity holds certain rights, then that entity also holds certain responsibilities as well.

 

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: There is only one way
Charles Murray   12/12/2013 7:04:48 PM
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Interesting idea, TJ. CEOs are accustomed to getting big bonus checks when earnings rise. So a penalty for a potentially preventable accident doesn't seem like a stretch.

wbswenberg
User Rank
Platinum
Over Pressure
wbswenberg   12/12/2013 12:13:54 PM
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Fines are just passed on to the consumer.  How about plant manager or CEO mandatory jail time.  But I will guess corporations can get out from under.  The watch dogs must not be a part of the company or paid by the company.  In spite of the FAA model I just do not think it works all that well.  The people involved have to have their own legal protection.  Managers think they can over rule the laws of physics.  The only people worse are politicians. 

TJ McDermott
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Over Pressure
TJ McDermott   12/12/2013 7:11:48 PM
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wbswenberg, the penalty I'm talking about is confiscating all profits.  The corporation continues to do business, cover operating costs, but any net profit goes to government and victims.  This would prevent passing the penalty on to the customers.  Jail time for the CEO at a minimum (every person involved that the court can determine as well) is also part of the penalty.

bobjengr
User Rank
Platinum
REGULAR CHECKS
bobjengr   12/12/2013 6:56:42 PM
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Excellent post Nick.  Another area in which scheduled safety checks are absolutely necessary--cryogenics and cryogenic storage.  I certainly agree that companies MUST be up front when it comes to demanding these checks be made in a timely fashion.   As with BP, lives are at stake and one component malfunctioning can make the difference between living and dying.   One excellent method to specify timing for inspections is MTBF (mean time between failure) and MTTF (mean time to failure).  This information is available from vendors or distributors.  The information is definitely worth looking at.

AnandY
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Gold
Re: Service history
AnandY   12/30/2013 12:26:41 PM
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Though most people, some engineers included, tend to overlook this factor, its importance cannot be over emphasized. It is especially important to monitor this if the servicing is not always done from a central point or is done by different people each time.

AnandY
User Rank
Gold
Re: Government supervision
AnandY   12/30/2013 1:57:34 PM
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Even though many companies have their own supervisory departments that are supposed to double check everything and ensure that all the instrumentations are working properly, each and every one of these would definitely do with a third opinion from an independent observer who might see things a little differently am sure if the BP guys had such a system in 2005 they wouldn't have been hurt so badly.

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