After I retired, I received a call from an engineer with whom I had worked. He told me that, nearly three years earlier, he had installed an oven that was used to burn paint off of hooks that held sheet-metal panels while they were being painted. He had been trying to control fumes and smoke at the oven inlet ever since without success, and the workers were threatening to walk off of the job if the fumes were not controlled. I agreed to visit the plant to see if I could come up with a solution.
When I saw the oven, I took a quick glance and asked for a step ladder. I placed the ladder near the burner section a few feet from the oven entrance and climbed up. I had a hard time seeing the top of the oven because it was only a few inches from the ceiling.
One glance was enough to determine the cause of the problem: An oven roof panel had never been installed, allowing fumes and heat to escape and flow to the oven entrance.
While it took only a few minutes to find the cause of the problem, the engineer — a representative of the sheet-metal company the plant had used — and I spent almost 2 hr putting together my report. Why did it take so long? We were trying to figure out how to update a small amount of sheet-metal work at the oven inlet so the people at the plant would think that this was what solved the problem. There was no mention of the missing roof panel in the report. Yet those of us involved knew that such a panel would be in place before the representatives from the sheet-metal company left the job.
Why would I suggest such a report? The answer is simple. If I wrote a report telling about the roof opening on the oven, somebody might put all of the blame on the engineer involved. However, I could not blame him for not finding the problem. After all, neither the representatives from the oven manufacturer nor the representatives from the company that installed the oven had found the problem, so why should the engineer be blamed for not finding it?
I'm sure he learned a valuable lesson: Look at everything. Don't believe anything anyone tells you when solving a problem.
Kenneth E. Robinson, CIH
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