Forensic Engineers and Consultants

Category Archive: Case Studies

When a DRY Fire Sprinkler System Leaves You Soaked

In my previous blog , I discussed the most basic and most common fire system type: wet sprinkler systems. The possible failure areas discussed with wet systems will also apply to dry sprinkler systems (control valves closed, obstructions, issues in the system, installation, or deficiencies with inspection, testing, and maintenance). Dry systems are even more prone to obstructions than wet systems, so close attention should be paid to that possibility. Read More

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The Collision Reconstruction Matrix

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It’s mid-January, the high today is 28 degrees with lows in the teens as the Carolinas are in the grip of a Canadian cold front and I’m on call tonight. The phone rings at 3:00 am; yes Sir, three cars with two fatalities, I-85 northbound, yes Sir, on the way. Despite the hurdles that lie in front of me cold, fatigue, the loss of life – my job with the South Carolina Highway Patrol Multi-Disciplinary Accident Investigation Team (MAIT) is to investigate, document, and ultimately prosecute chargeable collisions. To properly reconstruct this collision, three essential and distinct categories must be investigated and documented in order to provide a well-founded explanation of the series of events prior to, during, and after the collision regarding the human, the vehicle, and the environment; this investigative technique is known as the 9-cell collision reconstruction matrix. Read More

The Use of Taglines to Control Crane Loads

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The adequacy of a crane’s load line to support the weight of the object being lifted is an obvious concern when evaluating a crane lifting operation. Less obvious, but often equally important, is the presence and adequacy of taglines to provide control of the load orientation.

Taglines are simply ropes or lines that are Read More

Conveyor Backstops: Sometimes One Isn’t Enough, Part 2

This is the second in a two-part blog series about conveying equipment that severely injured a worker at a mine. In case you missed it, click here to read Part 1 where I describe the incident and the mining equipment. In this part, I will discuss my engineering analysis of the incident and the machinery involved and share the conclusions I reached.

The injured miner was a front-end loader operator. He was not a maintenance worker. He simply responded to a radio request for help with the conveyor. Power to the electric conveyor motors was locked out, but none of the maintenance workers did anything to lock out or block the hazardous gravitational potential energy in the heavy load of stone on the belt. Read More

Conveyor Backstops: Sometimes One Isn’t Enough, Part 1

This is the first of a two-part blog series describing an incident involving conveying machinery that seriously injured a miner. Part 1 describes the machinery and the incident. In Part 2 I will summarize my engineering analysis of the incident and share the conclusions I reached.

A loaded, inclined conveyor belt may contain hazardous levels of energy due to gravity. To protect workers, anti-reverse devices called backstops are installed on inclined conveyors to prevent unexpected downhill movement. The Conveyor Equipment Manufacturer’s Association (CEMA) defines a backstop as: Read More

Lack of HVAC System Design and Poor Installation Lead to Extreme Conditions

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Construction defects can appear in many forms.  The building does not necessarily have to fall down. There are many types of construction defects, including roof leaks, water intrusion into walls, as well as Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) defects.

One extreme example of this was an office complex I was called to for an investigation of the source of mold observed on the walls.  The occupants complained that they could not find a temperature setting on the thermostat where they could make the office comfortable. When I inspected the office, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  A band of black mold Read More

Interpreting Industrial Incident Data – Lesson Learned

This is a case study about an incident I investigated involving a major upset in a distillation column.  This blog builds on the previous blogs about the Distributed Control System, DCS – Data is the Key.

Distillation is a method of separating mixtures of compounds with differing boiling points.  Uncle Bill with his still on the hill separates ethanol, that boils at 173°F, from water that boils at 212°F.  If the mixture is heated to above 173°F, but below 212°F, the ethanol will boil, the vapor will travel up out of the unit and then can be condensed and served over ice with an olive…   Any mixture of two or more chemicals with different boiling points can be separated in this way.  The distillation Read More

Heat Exchanger Failures Will Shut Your Process Down

Heat exchangers, as the name implies, are used to bring a process stream to a desired temperature.  They can heat or cool either gases or liquids. They are fairly intricate in their construction, therefore not the cheapest piece of equipment to purchase.  For that reason, facilities don’t keep “spare” exchangers lying around, so when they fail catastrophically, the entire manufacturing process goes down with them… and stays down until they are fixed or replaced. Ow!

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Proper Construction and Maintenance Can Prevent Deadly Chimney Fires

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Burning Fireplace

There are few things as comforting to me during the winter months as a warm fire burning in the fireplace.  And in this case, I am talking the real deal, the kind that warms you multiple times; from cutting, splitting and stacking the firewood until finally lighting a fire in the fireplace.  However, just like your parents taught you, fire can be dangerous.  And having an actual fire in your home fireplace comes with some required maintenance to ensure you can safely control the fire and keep it where it belongs. Read More

Don’t Get Burned With Your Gas Grill!

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If there is one thing Americans can agree upon, it is the enjoyment that comes from an outdoor barbeque.  Whether a summertime cookout or a fall BBQ to watch a football game, we all love the fun and fellowship that comes from sharing a meal that was prepared outdoors on a grill or smoker.  In fact, 64% of Americans own a grill or smoker.  The great majority of these are LP fueled gas grills with comparatively few natural gas fired grills.  These products can be enjoyed safely when designed, installed, and used in a proper manner.  However, given the grill’s use of flammable fuel gas and high temperatures, the potential exists for things to go wrong and result in burn injuries or uncontained fires that spread to the surroundings. Read More

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