As we know – engineering professionals hugely underestimate their contribution and role in industry and the community. An interesting commentary from Albert (‘Al’) Koenig, past-statutory head of the Office of EnergySafety Western Australia (who now mixes diverse consulting interests with time on his beloved Bertram35). He feels strongly about safety in the workplace and the public domain, especially when it comes to electricity. An extract on the age old topic of earthing/ground practice at the end of this note.

Engineering professionals should be proud
He remarks:  As engineers and technical people we are proud to make things happen and but it’s important that in this desire to produce an outcome, the technical solutions properly take into account:

  • The relevant technical and safety requirements of a statutory nature (the legal requirements, contained in Acts, Regulations and referenced technical standards/codes);
  • The possible need for additional measures to guard people and property (moral issues that arise because simple compliance with local laws may not deliver an adequately safe outcome for people and property – this is where issues such as good risk management and “good industry practice” come into play); and
  • The wider corporate responsibility and also the impact on corporate image (and thus shareholder value) should a major deficiency with the outcome become evident.  For example, the capacity and means for ensuring the ongoing safety of facilities in the long term need to be considered, where relevant.

An Energy Safety checklist
I believe these three issues need to be seen as part of the “energy safety checklist” that practitioners apply as part of their work, in their endeavour for continuous improvement, whether working on infrastructure (e.g. electricity or gas transmission lines, power stations etc) or industry installations (of mine sites, process plants or large buildings).

Massive Energy Safety failures
There have been some very newsworthy energy safety failures in recent times and two come to mind (besides the Gulf of Mexico rig explosion, of course).  Firstly during early June 2010 there was a substation explosion and fire in Dhaka, Bangladesh which resulted in the death of at least 117 people and many more injured people, as the substation was next to a building storing various flammable chemicals.  Secondly, during August 2010 it was announced that British Petroleum had agreed to pay an unprecedented OSH law fine of US$51m for failing to correct safety hazards at its Texas City oil refinery after an explosion killed 15 workers in 2005.  The latter failure to comply is now not only costing BP a huge amount of money, but is also seriously hurting the company’s image and credibility. 

Safety short cuts are expensive
It highlights that taking safety shortcuts to salt away some dollars doesn’t really conserve money in the long run.  It also highlights that engineers should not be afraid to make sure the right information goes “up the line” to CEOs and also the directors of company boards, since many now take pride in reporting corporate performance through a triple bottom line  – known as people, planet & profit.

Thanks Al for this useful commentary.

In undertaking your day-to-day work, especially as far as safety is concerned, Howard Newton sagely observed: People forget how fast you did a task - but they remember how well you did it.

Yours in engineering learning