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Let’s Be Frank: The Inspector Who Cried Wolf

By Inspector Frank. June 25, 2020
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Editor’s Note:

Writing under the pseudonym Inspector Frank, the author of this column offers a first-hand, candid view of what he has witnessed throughout his career. His purpose in sharing these experiences and opinions is to encourage readers to think deeper about what they do, why they do it, and the possible impact of their decisions.

Inspectioneering is committed to protecting the anonymity of pseudonymous authors. We do, however, hold these contributors to the same editorial standards as those writing under their own name. In this, we know the author’s identity and maintain communications regarding the author’s published works. If you have any questions, feedback, or concerns stemming from this article, please send an email to befrank@inspectioneering.com and we will forward your correspondence to the appropriate party.

How do you keep the attention on equipment integrity when no one listens, wants to spend the money, or sometimes even seems to care?

I mentioned in my first article (May/June 2019 issue of Inspectioneering Journal) that an explosion really tends to focus everyone on the importance of taking care of your equipment. But really, who wants to have an explosion just to have their job taken seriously? It’s not the best way to get attention to your line of work. So, then what can be done when no one is taking it seriously? When I was starting out, an old inspector told me that the only way a company takes equipment integrity (EI) seriously is if they have a good size fire or explosion every three to five years. He said that if it goes any longer than that, the institution will forget why this money and time need to be spent.

Short of blowing the facility up, how can this be done?

I have met a wide variety of characters over the years working in EI and inspection. When watching them work, I picked up some tips on how to have your voice heard in a sea of competing interests without lighting up the skyline. I would like to anecdotally relate some of these “grabs” or “cries” for attention or more budget with peace of mind.

There is the school of thought that volume is the best way to get attention. People who adhere to this program ensure all of their communication is just plain loud. They are firm believers that you will get your way by shear force of will and domination of any conversation by being the loudest one in the room — or on the phone. I am sure you have met people like this in your career.

One fellow from Arkansas comes to mind. I sat through a few meetings of him yelling ‘“turban” out (along with other unintelligible phrases) before I realized that with his accent, he was actually yelling about turbines and the preventative maintenance (PM) programs that are needed to ensure “turban” integrity. So, while volume will get attention, it won’t endear you to your fellow coworkers or necessarily help them understand what you are saying. No one enjoys having meetings with the person that has to be the loudest in the room...

An older gentleman who had spent his life in asset integrity passed on a trick he had used early in his career to me. He told me about a piece of equipment that he wanted to have replaced due to caustic cracking concerns. After 18 months of not being able to garner support for this project, he decided things had to be taken to the next level. He told me when he passed the area of this equipment in the plant, he would start running, and not stop until he was clear of the area. This obviously started getting the attention of process personnel in the area, especially because, like most industrial facilities, running was not allowed on site.

After a few days had gone by with the inspector sprinting through an area of the plant, the process supervisor finally asked him “what the hell he thought he was doing?” He told the supervisor that the vessel was susceptible to caustic cracking, they had found caustic cracking in the past, and no one wanted to upgrade to a post weld heat treated vessel. He ended his discussion by saying he was scared to spend any time near the vessel and as a result, chose to run by it every time he had to pass it in the plant.

Apparently, at the very next meeting, the head of operations stated that the process department wanted the vessel replaced in order to remove the risk of caustic cracking. Within days, the project was with engineering. Sometimes, a little selective exercise can get your point across.

I worked with an engineer who was a firm believer in getting integrity concerns across through overwhelming firepower. His way of getting integrity concerns circulating and taken seriously was to load up every piece of data, reports, and analysis into large documents and send them to everyone. He dazzled with brilliance and put up such a mass of evidence that people would be scared to review it, let alone argue against it. I think the other effect it had was to kill any conversation and discussion over the creation of viable options to integrity concerns. But at the senior management level, everyone usually just assumed he must know what he is talking about.

In a similar vein, I worked with a guy who took the opposite approach. As the old saying goes, “when you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with BS.” He would endlessly discuss all of these bizarre details of inspection and why it is so important — with everyone. The question: “Did FLPI1 find any signs of chloride stress corrosion cracking?” would be answered by an explanation of the history of FLPI and LPI2 in general. Oh, for the good old “oil and whiting”3 days he would pine.

By the time he was done explaining the entire history of the NDE method or the problem (or both), everyone would be good and thoroughly confused and sometimes not even sure what the initial discussion had been about. Like the previous example of sending all of the data out, giving useless information can really kill discussion rather than garner support for EI. However, sometimes people would just say yes to make the pain stop. So, maybe he had a strategy...

As another approach, you can try “dressing for success.” In an industrial production plant, having personnel in fitted business attire is not the norm. I worked with a chemical engineer who would come to work dressed like a GQ model every day. I think his look charmed a lot of people into agreeing with him. The reason I think this is because he was actually an idiot. So, they weren’t necessarily agreeing with sound engineering arguments, they were fooled by the fact that he looked like he knew what he was talking about.

I personally used to justify budgetary expenses for the EI department by making every dime I spent relatable to process safety. “You can’t buy a new truck this year,” they would say. I would respond by writing a project initiation that went a little like this:

“We need a new truck for our new inspector. Without this truck, he won’t be able to get around the plant to perform PM inspections in a timely manner. Without these inspections taking place, a loss of containment becomes more probable. For example, a loss of containment on the XYZ hydrotreater would result in: potential loss of life and injury, secondary damage to other units, and loss of public trust. The unit being down would cost the company $1.5 million per day in lost production revenue. Because of this, I request a new truck.”

I know it’s a little over the top, but the truck purchase did get approved.

Continuing down the path: I once worked with a coordinator that made every low UT/RT reading on the piping corrosion monitoring program seem like the end of the world. Once in a while, it was something that needed immediate attention. Most of the time, it was a “reinspect in two years and replace at the next outage.”  I actually think this individual probably missed his calling as an actor considering the quality of theatrics he was capable of putting on. While a low UT reading can be of concern, I’m not convinced it requires a “dramatic flair.”

However, there are times in life when you have to get creative to bring the required attention and resources to EI problems. It’s always interesting to see how inspectors secure and use resources. I have been shocked, and sometimes awed, by seeing and hearing about different ways that people keep integrity concerns alive over the years (sometimes unintentionally).

Be careful though, as trying too hard to bring attention to the myriad concerns of a robust EI program can end up backfiring on you. If your department acts like the fabled Chicken Little and screams the sky is falling when it’s not, it’s only a matter of time before people stop taking you seriously. It’s like the air powered tube man with his arms flailing at a used car lot. People might stare as they drive by, but it’s likely not bringing in the paying customers. You don’t want to be the “inspector who cried wolf” with no one listening when you actually have a problem.

You also don’t want to be ignored until a big incident occurs. Have your voice heard, sometimes by any means necessary; be it through exercise, volume of data, or just volume. Be that person who can get attention when required, but make sure it’s actually required.

1Fluorescent liquid penetrant inspection
2Liquid penetrant inspection
3The "oil and whiting" method is a form of penetrant testing that originated in the 1800s and widely used until the mid-1900s when dye penetrant testing was accepted as a more effective method for revealing surface defects.


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