Forensic Engineers and Consultants

Tag Archive: P.E.

  1. When a DRY Fire Sprinkler System Leaves You Soaked

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    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. (more…)

  2. One Small Step…

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    Ladders…not a particularly exciting topic I’ll admit.  But hey, we need ladders to help us accomplish all kinds of tasks.  Most people have used at least one of the many types of ladders that are available today.  And the odds are probably pretty good that many of those users strayed outside the limits of safety a time or two while on a ladder.  It is amazing the risks some people will take to save some time or avoid the inconvenience of getting down to move the ladder into a safer position.  I wonder how many of those risks would be taken on a ladder if the users knew they were on camera.

    Think about astronaut Neil Armstrong.  He travelled by rocket almost 239,000 miles through space and has just successfully landed the lunar module on the surface of the moon.  Quite an accomplishment!  Now, with the eyes of the world on him, he is going to come down a ladder and become the first person to set foot on the moon.  I wonder how many times Neil Armstrong practiced coming down that ladder.  Now imagine him saying during that historic moment: “That’s one small step for a man… one giant leeee….aaaaaahhhhhhh!” And then the world watches as he falls back off the ladder and comes to rest lying on his back….on the surface of the moon….with a broken leg, a sprained wrist, and a bruised back, and clutching a ladder rung in one of his hands!  And 239,000 miles from the nearest Urgent Care!

    Image Credit: NASA Archives

    That would have drastically changed everything about the overall mission of the astronauts!  The investigation into this ladder accident would be an interesting and important one for sure, and the fact that such strong evidence was caught on video would be a luxury not usually available to the investigator.  Well, fortunately that accident did not happen!  Neil Armstrong finished his famous quote, he successfully stepped off the lunar module ladder, and the overall mission of the Apollo 11 flight was incredibly successful.

    Obviously, the everyday use of ladders at factories and homes across the U.S. lacks the drama and suspense of a moon mission ladder descent, but there are some similarities that we can look at.  Using a ladder always involves a level of risk.  That risk level is dependent on things such as the type of ladder, the height climbed, the attention of the user to follow all ladder safety rules, as well as the design and stability of the ladder used.  Ladders that are available these days are typically safe with respect to their design and the materials they are constructed of.  However, statistics show that in the US, on average, work-related ladder falls result in one death and more than 180 nonfatal injuries every two days.  In some of these cases, questions are raised about what actually caused or contributed to the accident.  When this happens, it is common for a forensic engineer to be hired to investigate the accident to determine if there was a defect in the ladder’s design or the materials it was manufactured from, or if the user of the ladder was possibly at fault.

    The things a forensic engineer will consider in the investigation are dependent on the specific circumstances of each accident as well as the scope of the accident request.  Typically, the type of ladder and whether it adhered to the design standards that were in place when it was manufactured will be a part of the investigation.  A quick internet search will show whether there are or have been recalls for that particular ladder model.  A thorough study of the ladder, whether through quality photos or having the actual ladder involved in the accident, can reveal evidence that will show whether a defect was present in the ladder at the time of the accident.  The specific members that were damaged can sometimes show how the ladder was loaded when it failed, and whether that failure may have been due to either a defect or the user’s bad judgment.  The goal of the investigation will be to find the truth as to what happened and to give a concise explanation of the expert’s findings along with his /her opinions in the final report.

    If you need an investigation of an accident involving any type of ladder, please call our experienced mechanical engineering experts at Warren.

    Bob Hickman is a Licensed Professional Engineer and Certified Machinery Safety Expert.  He has over 30 years of manufacturing and machine design experience in production and quality-driven environments.  Bob holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Clemson University.  Over his 30-year engineering career, Bob has designed many custom manufacturing machines and processes that improved quality, productivity, reliability, and safety.  He designed several machines to automate manual processes, replacing inefficient/unreliable manual equipment and has assisted with plant layout/production line planning.  He has significant experience with pneumatic systems and components, as well as hydraulics.  Bob regularly investigates personal injury, wrongful death, and product liability claims, as well as property damage claims involving machinery and equipment in a variety of environments for both insurance adjusters and attorneys.  Bob has an in-depth knowledge of many standards with emphasis on ANSI B11 standards for machine tool safety.

  3. Financial Injury.…From a Machine?!?!

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    Forensic engineers may be called upon to investigate a broad array of problems concerning a machine.  Cases involving physical injuries and even death are a large part of what we investigate in order to determine what caused the accident to happen and who may be at fault.  Occasionally, problems with a recently designed custom machine do not cause a physical injury, but instead cause a “financial” injury.  This type of “injury” can negatively impact the machine designer, the machine purchaser, or possibly both.  Financial injuries can be quite substantial, just as physical injuries can be, and may severely impact a company’s cash flow which can make or break a company.  A refusal to pay a designer/builder of a machine or paying for a machine that ends up not meeting the agreed upon performance specifications can have catastrophic consequences for many businesses, especially for small ones. (more…)

  4. When a Fire Sprinkler System Fails to Deliver

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    After a major fire, it is necessary to investigate the fire sprinkler system to see if and why it malfunctioned. Wet sprinkler systems are the most common and least complex fire sprinkler systems in use. The following are major items addressed in an investigation involving a wet system.

    If available, drawings of the supply piping and sprinkler system are helpful. If these are not available, a sketch of the system will be made. Requests will also be made for inspection, testing, and maintenance documentation as well as fire alarm logs.

    The top reason that fire sprinkler systems do not function correctly during a fire is (more…)

  5. WARREN Welcomes Mechanical Engineer Bob Hickman, P.E.

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    Please join us in welcoming Mechanical Engineer Bob Hickman, P.E., to the WARREN family! Bob has over 30 years of manufacturing and machine design experience in production and quality-driven environments. Bob holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Clemson University.

    Bob’s Areas of Expertise Include:
    -Machine Safeguarding
    -Machine Design
    -Equipment Failure
    -Mechanical Engineering
    -Industrial Accident Investigation
    -Codes & Standards
    -Machinery & Equipment Damage Assessment
    -Products Liability (more…)

  6. TVSS or SPD … Can I Buy a Vowel? Understanding Surge Protection and the Changing Requirements

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    Surge Protective Devices (SPD), formerly known as Transient Voltage Surge Suppressors (TVSS) have been around for a long time.   The most recognized version is integrated into outlet strips and used to protect sensitive electronics from surges, or higher than expected voltages on the power line.  Early versions of these surge strips were known to have problems where internal components could overheat and cause a fire.  Thermal protection was added to the designs to greatly reduce the potential for a fire hazard.  Such an implementation in an outlet strip is considered a Type 3 SPD. (more…)

  7. In a Flash – The Transfer of Energies in Our Global Electrical System

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    According to published weather data for the year 2019, 2.35 billion lightning strikes were recorded across the world, with 223 million of these in the United States.  The movement of atmosphere causes electrical charges to build up between clouds.  A tipping point is reached where the insulating properties of the air cannot withstand the level of energy and a discharge occurs.

    Image Credit: Charleston Post and Courier. A lightning strike over Charleston, SC on July 3, 2019.

    (more…)

  8. Testing…testing… Is this thing on?

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    Many people just take for granted that something is just going to work, and in many cases assume that it will work forever.  One such device that does not get enough attention is the Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI).   Simply put, a GFCI is a protective device that compares the current flowing on the hot and neutral wires of the circuit and will “trip” to disconnect power to the circuit if a small imbalance of current is detected.  The imbalance of current is an indication of a dangerous alternate path for the current to flow from a damaged line cord or a fault inside an appliance and constitutes a shock hazard to a person. (more…)

  9. Ready, Set, Fly! – Understanding Another Technology for Forensic Investigations

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    This is the first blog in a series on integrating new technologies into the process of forensic investigations.  Documenting the scene of an incident accurately, efficiently, and safely is a key step in every investigation.  Busy roadways and unstable structures present hazards to the investigator during the investigation process. The use of remote sensors can reduce these risks and provide data that otherwise could not safely be obtained. (more…)

  10. Grounding versus Bonding – Understanding the Difference in Building Electrical Systems

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    While a teenager might be very familiar with being “grounded”, there is confusion over the meaning of the word in the electrical sense. In building electrical systems, “grounding” and “bonding” are two terms that are often misunderstood. Improper application of the concepts of grounding and bonding may create lethal shock and fire hazards. “Earthing” is a term which comes from the European International Electrotechnical Committee (IEC). Earthing is synonymous with grounding but often thought to have a different meaning. (more…)

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