Forensic Engineers and Consultants

Archive: Fires and Explosions

OSHA’s Process Safety Management – Is This Process Covered?

In February of 1992, the OSHA Process Safety Management (PSM) standard was issued. The official title is: ‘Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals.’ As its title implies, not every facility is covered by this rigorous standard. A process must contain highly hazardous, as defined by OSHA, chemicals above a certain weight threshold, again defined by OSHA. Notice that this is a process by process determination, so there could be certain processes at a manufacturing facility that are not covered by this standard situated beside other processes that are.
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A corroded boiler tube

Boiler Blowdown – It’s Not a Dance Move

When thinking about the safe operation of boilers (and don’t we all?), several systems can readily be named; flame control, fuel/air ratio; steam pressure control, levels in the vessel, etc. What about the water? It seems so passive, as long as there is enough for level control, what’s the big deal? Well, it turns out, that as the steam produced by a boiler is used in the process, the condensate from that steam is returned to the boiler as feedwater. However, since 100% of the condensate is not returned, whatever solids had been in that water before it evaporated to form steam are left in the remaining water.  Fresh feedwater is added to maintain levels, but even fresh water contains some dissolved solids. So over time, the water in the boiler system gets saturated with all sorts of dissolved minerals.
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Cooker - Figure 2

Commercial Gas-Fired Cookers Can Do More Than Burn

The first hazard that comes to mind when thinking about large scale ovens and steam kettles is burning or scalding injury. Carbon monoxide poisoning is just as dangerous but less understood, so oftentimes proper prevention methods are not followed. In the United States, this results in over 20,000 emergency room visits and over 400 deaths a year. Before we get to the case study and poisoning prevention methods, we need to know what CO is, where it comes from, and why it is poisonous. Read More

Fig-1-Chem-E-Intro

Chemical Engineers: More than Glorified Plumbers – Really!

As a senior at Virginia Tech, I was told that ChemE’s were little more than glorified plumbers.  Looking back, I’m pretty sure it was to keep our geek-egos in check. It was an effective tool! However, as I grew and traveled as a professional, it became an effective descriptor; applying to a larger scale and using a modifier or two for specific applications.  So, if you have a loss that falls into one of the categories below, a ChemE could be the expert you need. Read More

Figure 1:  A view of the improperly constructed fireplace alleged to have caused the subject fire. 
 The hearth extension has been largely consumed in the fire.

Improper Fireplace Construction: Testing the Impact of Non-Compliant Clearance to Combustibles

Author

As the weather turns cold, many people use fireplaces to provide supplemental heat. The warmth from a fireplace is a comfort and the aesthetics of a glowing fire are a pleasure.  However, there is nothing pleasurable about a residential house fire that results from an improperly built or used fireplace or chimney. Read More

Figure 2: A Webshare photograph from a scan captured from the safety of a balcony in the workshop. The scanner operator never had to climb directly above the forklift to create the shot in Figure 1. The Webshare user can pan, zoom, and measure from the photograph. The grey target icons represent other scan locations on the ground.

Another Dimension of Engineering, Part 2: Visual Demonstrations Can Clarify the Issue

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Co-Authored with John Phillips, PE, CFEI

In our last post on 3D scanning, we introduced Warren’s new Faro Focus X 330 three dimensional scanner.  To recap, the Faro scanner combines three dimensional laser measurement with automated photography to capture 360-degree data from the real world. Potential applications include vehicle accident scenes and damaged vehicles, structural collapses, fire scenes, flood damage scenes, and machinery and equipment analysis, among others. In this post, we will highlight some of the outputs that can be created from the detailed data captured by the scanner. Read More

Figure 2. A detail of the CAD model showing the area in which the firefighter was injured.

Firefighter burned due to improper industrial oven design and operation

Author

Industrial ovens and furnaces are used in many manufacturing processes.  One use of industrial ovens is for drying and curing coatings on fabrics.

I investigated a fire loss involving a very large oven, 10 stories high, used for curing coatings on an industrial fabric. A young firefighter was burned in response to this fire, one of a string of many fires that had occurred involving the oven.

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Figure 2:  One of twelve tests where a junction of LP gas charged CSST and 5 sections of energized NM cable were subjected to fire conditions.

Evaluating the Potential for “Victim” Holes Not Caused By Lightning in CSST

Author

Prior to becoming a forensic engineer, I spent many years in industry designing fuel gas fired equipment. This included designing gas grills, commercial cooking appliances, and large industrial systems.  I learned a lot about the safe use of natural gas and propane. Once I entered the forensic engineering field, that experience helped me in evaluating fires involving natural gas and propane equipment and piping systems. One such area that I have found particularly interesting are fires involving Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing (CSST).

CSST is a material used to plumb fuel gas inside structures.  It is used as an alternative to traditional black steel pipe or copper tubing. The stainless steel tube of CSST, in certain circumstances, will perforate when subjected to electrical arcing, including that due to local lightning strikes.  The escaping fuel gas from these perforations has obvious implications as to causing fires. Read More

Gas valves from a process furnace that experienced an explosion. The final gas safety shut off valve has its wiring cover partially open. This can be an indication that someone was directly powering the valve and bypassing the control system safety logic. Open wiring covers on controls should be fully investigated.

Stay in Control: Manipulation of Electrical Controls Can Lead to Fires and Explosions

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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. Read More

The interior of this chase and the surrounding roof framing was badly burned in a fire.  The fire resulted from construction defects in the installation of the chimney system.

Fire Losses Involving Improper Construction and Installation of Fireplaces and Chimneys

Author

On a cold winters night a family is gathered in the living room of their home enjoying the warmth of their fireplace.  After using the fireplace all day, they go off to bed to a nice restful sleep.  However, they are soon rudely waked by the sound of a smoke alarm in the home.  Rushing out into the cold night they can see smoke, but no flame in the home.  Outside, they can see that the chase around the fireplace chimney is burning.  The fire department is called and thankfully extinguishes the fire before it does widespread damage, however the family must leave the home for several months as repairs are made. Read More

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