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Boiler Systems Can Be Hazardous

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In October 1990, as the United States prepared for war with Iraq, a significant number of our navy ships were in the Arabian Gulf.  Among the ships was USS Iwo Jima.  Built in the mid-1950s, Iwo Jima was an amphibious landing ship with a carrier-like flight deck and carried helicopters and Harrier jump-jets, in addition to a large number of Marine troops. Having been in operation in the Middle East for two months, Iwo Jima had developed a leak in a steam valve which supplied steam to an electric generator.  Iwo Jima subsequently docked in Bahrain, where the steam valve was repaired by a local contractor under US government inspection. After the completion of repairs, Iwo Jima raised steam to get underway and rejoin the fleet when the valve began to leak again.  The bonnet blew off the valve, flooding the boiler room with steam.  Eleven of the crewmen in the boiler room were killed.  It was determined that the cause of the tragic accident was the use of fasteners made from the wrong material combined with a lack of proper inspection.

The Department of Labor defines a boiler as “a closed vessel in which water or other liquid is heated, steam or vapor is generated, steam is superheated, or any combination thereof, under pressure, for use external to itself, by the direct application of energy from the combustion of fuels, from electricity or nuclear energy.”  Boilers have come a long way since their introduction in the 18th century.  Early boilers were manually operated, and the only safety checks were water level gauges and safety valves.  As boilers became bigger and steam pressures increased, operation changed from manual to automatic control.  Today’s boiler systems include boiler management systems with flame scanners and igniters and water level controls.

Boiler systems, by nature, can be hazardous.  OSHA says even a pinhole leak in a high-pressure steam line can kill a person.  Those who work on boiler systems need to be aware of OSHA regulations and warnings, and safety training is essential.  Systems need to be routinely inspected, tested and maintained, and all inspections should be properly logged.  Material strength and boiler water chemistry are also important elements of boiler maintenance.

CED Investigative Technologies has several mechanical engineers who have worked on boiler systems.  If you have a case or claim involving a boiler, call us at 1-800-780-4221 or visit us online at to speak with one of our experts.

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