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At Least You Know You Have No Standards

, , , , | Working | August 11, 2021

I work for a company that produces bridge bearings and structural protection systems. One day, a call is forwarded to me.

Caller: “Hello, I am [Caller] from [Small Town Council] with a question about elastomeric bearings.”

Me: “Sure, how can I help you?”

Caller: “The local canoe club of [Town] has its clubhouse under a bridge, which is fitted with your elastomeric bearings. Now, they want to install a kitchen in the house, which is why we must now evaluate the endurance of the bearings in case of a fire.”

Me: “We strongly recommend replacement of the bearings if they have been exposed to fire!”

Caller: “I know, but tell me unofficially: how long can they survive a fire?”

Me: “The relevant standard says that they may be exposed to 70°C for a brief period of time without impairment of function. Any higher, and they should be considered damaged and must be replaced!”

Caller: *Now irate* “Don’t hide behind standards! In my twenty years in this position, I am proud to say that I have never cared about standards! They coat the rolls of asphalt rollers with rubber, so it must survive much higher temperatures!”

I told him that I could not help him further and to seek the help of a fireproofing professional. It eventually turned out that everyone else at his office had told him to do so, as well, but he didn’t want to bother and just hoped for me to absolve him of responsibility.

I still don’t know what he expected. There’s a potential danger of massive loss of life when bridges are involved, so if I didn’t “hide behind the standards,” I’d be personally liable and might even face criminal charges if an actual fire happened!