We have a saying at Warren, “When we go to work on a new case, usually someone else has had a very bad day.” If you are a plant manager at a factory, you know it’s a bad day when you hear the fire alarm or a loud explosion emanating from the back of the plant.
A large part of our work at Warren involves investigating fires and explosions, and in some cases we evaluate the electrical control systems of industrial equipment to determine if problems with the controls had a part in causing the fire or explosion.
Equipment like chemical reactors, boilers, incinerators, ovens, furnaces and others have control systems that, when operating correctly, keep the system within safe limits. The systems use various control devices such as pressure switches, limit controls (pressure, temperature, level, etc.) and other sensors in combination with final control devices like valves and motors. The system responds using logic that is both inherent in the hardwiring between the devices, and resides in controllers like flame safeguards or programmable logic controllers (PLC’s). Additionally, various devices like fuses, circuit breakers, and overload relays are used to keep electrical currents within safe limits.
The above really just scratches the surface of electrical control system components and design. Evaluating the control system design, and a forensic examination of these devices is a normal part of most industrial fire and explosion investigations. While a control system device can malfunction and cause an explosion, it is more common that either the overall system design is improper, or a safety device has been bypassed.
In our investigations, we have seen a number of electrical control system safety devices bypassed that did or could have resulted in fires or explosions. I thought it might be interesting to see a few.
Founded in 1997, The Warren Group, forensic engineers and consultants provides technical investigations and analysis of personal injury and property claims as well as expert testimony for insurance adjusters and attorneys. Extremely well versed in the disciplines of mechanical, electrical, chemical, structural, accident reconstruction and fire and explosion investigation, our engineers and consultants are known for delivering the truth — origin, cause, responsibility and cost of an event or claim — with unmistakable clarity.