There is enough interest in Ted Metcalfe’s book list, and the idea of learning from failures, that it’s time to set up a book club. It’s a book club for people in the pipeline engineering industry, interested in learning from failures. Answering the question “what happened?”, and being better engineers and pipeliners because we’ve paid attention to the lessons.
In a “book club” type of environment, we can assign ‘required reading’, but more importantly, there is the opportunity to discuss what we’ve read, learned or thought about each month. That’s what I’m looking forward to.
The first meeting, a kickoff meeting to check interest and participation, will be held on Monday August 1st , 16:30 – 17:30 AEST, via either Zoom or MS Teams.
Put it in your calendar for now. In the next week or so, I’ll set up a signup link and meeting invitations to confirm interest. That will appear here on the blog.
It may have been Einstein who famously said “The more I learn, the more I realise how much I don’t know.“
More simply put, “We don’t know what we don’t know”.
Gaining awareness of things which have not turned out well for others helps us to get better at what we do so that we don’t repeat mistakes others have made.
Industry codes and standards record the wisdom and experience accumulated by many engineers over many years for the benefit of all engineers, and these need to be updated regularly for various reasons including knowledge of things which have not turned out well.
In his book The Making of an Expert Engineer, Prof. James Trevelyan states at Page 57:
Technical standards have been created through the experience of other engineers and are carefully negotiated within each specialised engineering discipline, striking a balance between restrictions to promote safety and ease of use, while also avoiding constraints that would inhibit innovation and design freedom.
That’s an excellent description of what the engineers on our Standards committees do all the time.
In the Australian pipeline industry we have an excellent Standard (AS 2885) to work with because we revise it regularly to keep up to date with new information. Awareness of poor outcomes is one of the things that has informed the continued evolution of the Australian Standard in a way that pipeline engineers in other countries envy.
Here’s some examples of links between past events and the current Standard:
Part 1 Clause 13.2 (a) requires project design records include as-built data.
Example: Due to a contractual issue, the as-built survey data for an HDD was not provided to the client. A few years later, during third-party works near the HDD, the original design drawings were assumed to be accurate. They were not. The third-party works punctured the pipeline far below the surface, and the client ended up replacing the entire HDD string.
The AS2885 suite requires detailed attention to SCC and Fracture Control. In 1982, a major rupture of the Moomba Sydney Pipeline over some distance prompted a lot of research and investigation associated with Stress Corrosion Cracking and the importance of Fracture Control to arrest running fractures. The outputs of the research and investigations have resulted in revisions to AS 2885 in several areas.
AIV and FIV(Vibration) AS2885.1 now includes clear delineation between “linepipe” and “piping”, and makes specific reference to AIV and FIV as potential failure modes. The unexpected discovery of an integrity threat on a relatively new pipeline system, and the research associated with mitigation of that threat, have now been incorporated in to AS2885 as revisions in several areas including the vibration Appendix.
Knowledge of such events leads to a better understanding of the intent of the Standard, but sometimes the background for changes in the Standard is not widely known by those who use it.
Sharing of stories about things which have not turned out as planned is one way to increase awareness for better understanding of the intent of the Standard.
Sometimes that requires sharing stories with others about things that we ourselves have not done well, which can be embarrassing.
Despite the reluctance to share such stories, the AS2885.info team and others believe that we can and should get better at helping others learn through sharing stories.
If you are intrigued by the concept of sharing stories to help others better understand what went wrong and avoid making the same mistakes, please contact us.
Experienced engineers are able to make engineering judgements with confidence. Some of the reasons why pipeline engineers using AS2885 may benefit from asking a question in relation to confidence include:
1) Maybe you are required to make a decision in relation to application of the Standard, but just don’t quite have the confidence to do so, and a second opinion would help.
…I don’t know enough about this, but I’ll bet someone else around here does…
2) Maybe you have been told by your supervisor or an experienced colleague that a certain clause means one thing, but their interpretation does not seem quite right to you, and you would like a second opinion without openly challenging your colleagues.
…that’s not what I think it means; I need more guidance here…
3) Maybe you have witnessed what you think might be an incorrect or inappropriate practice, and before making any fuss about it in your own workplace you would like to quietly get a second opinion from an independent source, without disclosing why you are asking.
…I’m pretty sure this isn’t right, but I need confirmation…
4) Maybe you are involved with modifications to a rather old pipeline for which not all of the usual design and inspection material is available, and you are unsure as to exactly how the current Standard should be applied.
…this pipeline is older than me, and it needs help… and so do I…
5) Maybe you are afraid that your question will be considered by other as a dumb question, and you don’t want to ask in the office and risk looking silly for not knowing the answer already.
…I’m not dumb, but I feel that way…
This last point prompts me to describe how I learned a very important lesson about asking questions quite early in my career when I was working in a sour gas processing plant:
Amoco Canada processed a lot of highly toxic hydrogen sulphide gas and the gas plant where I was working had experienced a serious accident. As a very junior engineer I was allowed to attend the meeting of management convened to examine the causes and work out a way forward, but I didn’t understand everything that was being discussed.
At one point I bravely put up my hand and said “Can I ask a stupid question?”
The plant manager replied calmly from the other end of the table “Son, in this industry, there are no stupid questions, only dead people who failed to ask the questions, so how can we help you?”
Ever since then I have had the confidence to ask a question when I didn’t understand something.
You can ask the AS2885.info team any questions which might help you be a better pipeline engineer – that’s what we’re here for.
We learn new information in many ways, and for many different reasons. Even when we are not trying to learn, or don’t think we need to learn, we seem to gather valuable information.
For some people, lessons are really only learned if they are learned the hard way, from the bitter experience of having done something wrong with unexpected (sometimes embarrassing, painful or expensive) consequences.
It’s a lot easier to learn by asking questions.
In the Introduction of Part 0, it is acknowledged that AS2885 sets out specific requirements in some areas, but notes that these do not replace the need for appropriate experience and engineering judgement.
In Clause 1.5.7 of AS2885 Part 0, competence is defined as having an appropriate combination of knowledge, skills and experience to safely and effectively perform the task required as requirements for users of AS2885.
Users of AS2885 are required to apply engineering judgement.
It can be said that engineering judgement requires a combination of both knowledge and the confidence to make decisions, where:
– Knowledge is the accumulation of relevant factual material, and
– Confidence is the self-courage required to interpret both the relevant circumstances being considered and the application of the Standard to those circumstances, and to make decisions on that basis.
Experienced engineers have learned that one of the easiest and most important ways to learn is to simply ask questions, and for pipeline engineers, that’s one of the main reasons that the AS2885.info wiki was created.
We’re here to help you learn, and we look forward to having users of our Standard ask questions.