Up to 60 people killed p.a. in boiler explosions in the UK in the 1860-70’s, with 31 explosions in 1880. The UK Parliament became agitated - so 1882 & 1890 saw the UK pass the Boiler Explosions Acts. It was necessary for industry to be regulated into a governance culture. Just preceding the 1882 Act, the British Engine’s 1st Technical Report, of 1879 was born … a key first step in the industry's KM.
Before the 1882 Act, only 20,000 of 110, 000 boilers in the country were being inspected - explosions were attributed to "age, corrosion & wastage". In some ways the reticence to inspect was not surprising - the costs & it does involve quite a lot to take a boiler down for inspection and then bring it back online – not just a matter of flicking a switch. After the 1882 Act, the bar charts showed an amazing plummet in explosions and deaths. And they dropped again after the introduction of the 1901 Factory & Workshop Act. Those outcomes are step change metrics that many organizations would be thrilled in achieving. In Germany, by 1900, Munich Re was beginning to consider industrial equipment insurance issues.
However it was not just about inspecting susceptible equipment – KM was vital. M Langridge was passionate about documenting & passing on the lessons to the next generation, as stated in his 1906 report ... "Many of the experiences set forth in the following pages are no more than old acquaintances dressed in new clothes, familar pictures with fresh backgrounds and the paragraphs in which they are described but new presentments of ancient histories. But in ephemeral literature repetition is not to be despised so long as the mistakes and difficulties dealt with continue to be made and felt; so long as there are young ones growing up to make the like mistakes and suffer the same troubles as their elders, unless warned by the records of the experience of the past. And particularly is this true when the experiences gathered are of a kind that comparatively few have opportunities of gathering."
And in his 1908 report, Langridge again reiterated the KM message ... "The old causes of accidents remain. The familiar consequences follow, and history repeats itself in the Company's little world no less than in the march of nations.... Nor is it well entirely to ignore the old, for what is old to some is new to others. Those who have learnt the lessons of experience pass away, and others who have yet to learn take up the work. They find to their cost that much of the old is new. ... There are two kinds of things men's eyes and minds ignore - those they have never seen and those which speaking vulgarly, are always in front of their noses. To inform them of the one and remind them of the other is fitting work for the instructed scribe..."
However success could not allow complacency. And in 1917-27 explosions of caustic cracking due to failing boiler rivets appeared - failing from a combined corrosion and straining beyond yield point. 1928 saw the onset of failures due to welding - in the absence of advice on proper design, permissible stress levels, construction methods or inspection requirements ... problems with lack of fusion in welding were reported. Ultimately changes were called for - including pressure testing. (Note - From 1946-1964, the reports were written by the Research Engineer, GA Cottrell - an icon in the field of metallurgy for many students of the 1970-90’s).
This legacy of boiler inspection in the UK, which was carried through generations of families, continues via the SaFed. It has now been extended to a much wider range of assets - oil rigs, turbines, plants in chemical, iron& steel industries.
And all around the world - the boiler inspectors, together with other specialists in inspection - NDE, lifting, condition monitoring, structural condition & those in failure investigation - forensic engineering specialists, such as Neil Barnett, (20 years experienced, carved out his own niche & firmly stepped outside Dave's shadow) ... are all supporting today's asset owners, managers, shop floor operators & maintainers. Together .... all dedicated to preventing equipment problems, improving safety & documenting what they find into today's knowledge bases & sharing it across networks & Communities of Practice (COP's).
The language of the old British Engine Technical Reports may be archaic and quaint ... but their KM & Governance messages remains constant ... checking, sharing and learning ... to save people's lives....
(Reference - British Engine Technical Report 1978 Volume XIII - 1878-1978 100Years of Service to Industry.)
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