Engineering Safety (Part Two)

To an engineer there are no accidents, only unanticipated consequences of situations that need to be better understood. We even have a rule about it -Murphy’s Law says that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the people involved to think about risk and plan for failures. We used to hear about “Murphy” all the time, not as an excuse but as a way of highlighting the need to prepare for the very real possibility of failure.

I do not know for sure when we as an engineering community ceded our decision making authority on technical matters to “the suits.” This separation of “authority” from “responsibility” has left the technical people with the mess to clean up and puts health and safety at risk.

The change took place fairly recently as I recall spending many hours playing the “What if?” game with other engineers and machine designers while planning the next generation of wind turbine gearboxes. No one wanted to be the guy responsible for a spectacular video clip on the evening news. Some of the people were regularly climbing towers so their concern was even more personal.

Engineers are supposed to be paranoid. If you do not occasionally lose sleep worrying about your work you are no longer an engineer. This “professional fear” is necessary to improve our products and our processes. We never know enough about the materials we use or the stresses parts are under. Fatigue life is always a concern. What is the weak link? Were all the tolerances held? Was assembly done properly? Is the operator following the instructions? Are the sensors working? Are the gages properly calibrated?

The questions just keep coming and there is always room for improvement. Nothing terrifies a true professional as much as an “accident” being traced to negligence. Ignorance can be corrected; willful negligence is a far more complex problem. Don’t set yourself up for a lifetime of regret by shortcutting your study of the situation

About Charles D. Schultz 678 Articles
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.