Safety Moment #33: Bang, Bang

Process safety wisdom

An electrical power plant used boilers that generated high pressure steam. The boiler house was under the control of a superintendent with many, many years of experience. Eventually, as happens to all of us, time caught up with him and he decided to retire.

A few weeks after his departure one of the boilers started making an inexplicable banging noise. No one could figure out the cause of the noise. Management called in boiler consultants, the process safety coordinator organized a HAZOP, the inspection group conducted extensive surveys — all to no avail. The banging noise continued.

So they decided to call up the retired superintendent and ask him if could figure out what the problem was. He agreed, came into the boiler house, immediately walked over to an obscure section of the boiler piping and hit that piping very hard with a large hammer. The banging stopped.

Management was, of course, delighted and asked the retired superintendent to send his invoice.

His invoice was for $10,000.

This led to outrage. How, management asked, could he justify such a large amount of money for spending just a few minutes of work. So he agreed to revise the invoice; it now read: 

  • For hitting the pipe: $100
  • For knowing where to hit the pipe: $9,900