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Taking the Heat

Repairing an industrial oven raises questions about safety and shortcuts.

Your plant has an annealing oven. Due to an operator error, a parts jam at the entrance caused several insulating tiles to break. So the oven was shut down to permit those repairs. Because the cooldown and reheat take so much time, some other repairs have been scheduled several months ahead of their due date.

This is work for electricians, and your crew has been assigned. It involves replacing sensors and wiring throughout the oven.

The fans cooled the surface temperatures near the entrance enough for tile replacement and that work has already been done. But the manufacturer says to maintain that airflow for 24 hours before fully entering the vessel.

A rep from the manufacturer explained that once people enter the vessel, their bodies block the airflow and residual heat will make the human contact surfaces unsafely hot after only a short while. When pressed to define “short” he said that after half a day of cooling, you might have 10 minutes.

You told this to the plant manager, who then responded he wants your crew to wait that half a day and then work at 10 minute intervals to get the work done.

A few problems with this approach:

  • With entry and exit issues, plus getting re-situated with the work, each worker would have only a couple of minutes to do actual work.
  • That 10 minutes will result in more heat build-up in those surfaces, meaning long intervals between 2 minute spurts. It’s not the case you can work back to back 10 minute “shifts”.
  • This approach contradicts the manufacturer’s recommendations, which means a heightened liability for the company if anyone gets hurt.
  • This approach also increases the risk for more damage to the tiles deeper in the vessel, and that would extend total downtime.

Often, “thinking outside the box” is used for justifying not thinking things through. Always ask why that box is there in the first place. When it comes to safety, time pressure can tempt us to get creative with taking shortcuts. Don’t give in to that pressure.

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