Fumes For Fools

My career has taken me across the African continent and the UAE which has exposed me to different cultures and people's perspectives of our small but rapidly growing fraternity of Non Destructive Testing personnel.

The one, but very particular incident that I will never forget in my travels occurred at a particular power station where I was working on an outage with many other NDT personnel with many more years experience in the Power Generation industry.

One particular day I was teamed up with a specific technician, who not only had a lot more experience than I on this specific task that was given to us, but also had extensive knowledge of Ultrasonic testing, which at that stage was a huge interest of mine. So after our regular team talk / safety talk we decided to make our way to site via the cafeteria to have a quick smoke and a coffee. You guys know exactly what I am talking about.

The inspection that we were assigned to conduct called for Liquid Penetrant examination of stellite seats on a main steam valve. Prior to us commencing the examination the necessary procedure was followed for LPI, however we weren't the only personnel working on these particular 2 pipe racks. There were welders and other fabrication guys also - typical site work.

I was a little cautious but my colleague quoted, "Don't stress the other guys are 2 meters away and nothing can happen", so we continued and after the required time period we had to develop the test piece. My senior colleague decided to light up a cigarette which I quickly responded by saying to him to put it out. His response was "I know what I'm doing and I have much more experience than you and I have tested many valve seats before". I clearly disagreed with him and soon after this conversation I felt an immense amount of heat at the back of my neck and the entire pipe rack starting shaking tremendously. To my amazement I turned to my right hand side and noticed the cigarette burnt out still in my colleague's mouth and his facial hair: eye brows, moustache and beard were totally gone.

At that moment I didn't know whether to laugh or get help. The flame travelled through the entire length of the pipe rack where the welders were working. Luckily no one was present at that time - typical welder's working strategy.

I know we were "naughty boys", but the lesson to be learned from this incident is: in any course manual presented to you it will be written that penetrants and developers are from the hydro carbon family, meaning that they are flammable. Beware because just from striking a match, which is not in direct contact to the area you working, will catch alight due to the fact that the chemical vapours are airborne. Better to be safe than to lose your eyebrows!

No matter what people tell you, follow the instruction and technique sheet. There should be no deviation from safe practice for NDT personnel. Safety is in your hands.


Seelan Moodley