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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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