A Word About Fraud…

Every once in awhile a case comes along that has a little bit more intrigue than the run-of-the mill investigation. A few years ago, we were asked to look into why a man was injured while working on a scissor lift that had apparently gotten away from him. In order to understand what happened, it is important that one realizes that a scissor lift can be raised and lowered while in place or moved forward and backward. The controls for this particular lift were located on the side of the platform railing and were raised and lowered as the platform was raised and lowered. This particular lift had been rented from an equipment rental company by a construction company and as stated earlier, was in use at the time of the accident. Specifically, a construction employee was standing on the platform in a raised position while attempting to move the lift to his left. Upon releasing the control to stop the machine, the machine did not respond and eventually crashed into a forklift. As a result of this incident, the rental company, by its contractual agreement with the construction company, was expecting to be indemnified because the employee had filed suit against the rental company for his injuries.

After receiving this assignment, a trip was made to the rental company’s location in order to conduct an examination of the machine. At first, no restrictions had been placed on the examination. Upon arrival, it was learned from rental company representatives that the lift could not be operated, disassembled, or tested in any way. The examination was to be limited to taking photographs and making notes of observations. One of the photographs that was taken is shown below. The photograph shows the condition of the control panel as it was found during the first examination. Note the dirty appearance and the type of joystick used.

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Approximately four months later, a joint examination was organized wherein various parties that had used or worked on the machine gathered to witness the testing and examination of the lift. The examination was begun with allowing all of the parties to photograph the machine. Although the machine had been photographed four months previous, the lift was again photographed. When the photographs were later reviewed and compared with the photographs taken at the first examination, it was then discovered that the control in place during the second examination was different form the control initially found on the machine. The appearance of the control shown below is the control that was on the lift during the second examination. Clearly, this control is different from the one shown in the photograph above. It then became obvious that not only had the control been replaced but, the only reason to replace the control was to hide the problem in the first control that most likely caused the accident. Once the lawyers were made aware of the switch, the claim for indemnification by the rental company soon disappeared. Presumably, the lawsuit filed by the employee against the rental company was settled.

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Although fraud exists, even in civil cases, it is fairly hard to prove. This aforementioned case was more the exception than the rule. Over the past 30 years, I have had several cases where I thought that something was missing or there was more to the situation than “meets the eye”. In all cases, at the end of the day, it’s what you can prove not what you can feel. If you can develop proof for what you can feel, then great! If not, then all you do is conclude based on your evidence. If you are going to commit fraud, be prepared to cover even the smallest detail. As illustrated above, no one thought that the control replacement would be noticed, but it was!

 

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Fire and Appliance Safety, Part 2

In keeping with the previous post on fire and appliance safety, photographs of some items that have been encountered in previous fire investigations are posted here: the first photo shows an electric stove where the fire originated in the control panel.

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The next photo shows a packaged a/c unit damaged by fire as a result of contact made between a live wire and the edge of an opening in the metal casing.

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The third photo shows a riding lawn mower that ignited, most likely, by the owner’s failure to keep the machine clean between cuttings.

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The next photo is of a paper shredder, also burned, because the machine was not kept clean.  Dust created by shredded paper is just as flammable as any petroleum based fuel if the right conditions exist for ignition.

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The propane gas regulator shown below was installed backwards so that gas was flowing into the outlet port and existing through the vent port.  Since there was no pressure regulation, the cap covering the adjustment, (located in the center) was blown off and the escaping gas ignited.  The homeowner happened to be standing nearby and was severely burned.

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The next photograph shows a line cord attached to an aquarium pump. The problem was identified as a faulty line cord that was not properly sized for the continuous operation. As a result, the line cord insulation melted and ignited.

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The following photograph shows a coffee maker that ignited and caused a small kitchen fire.  This appliance was destroyed badly enough so that the actual problem was unidentifiable.

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The pipe flange in the next photograph cracked after having been in use for several years.  The leaking gas percolated up through a homeowner’s lawn and ignited; destroying the home as well as damaging a neighbor’s house.

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Corrosion of the copper gas line resulted in the leaking of propane gas and a sudden explosion.  The explosion destroyed a residential structure.

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Fires and Appliance Safety

The weather has definitely gotten colder and heating systems are being put to the test. There are different kinds of systems; electric resistance, gas-fired forced air, hot water, and steam to name a few.  Regardless of the type of system, the potential for accidental fire is part of all heating systems.   During this time of year, it not uncommon for problems to develop which, when left unattended, can result in significant damage to homes and businesses.  For example, furnaces, both gas and electric, should be cleaned at least once per year; at the beginning of the heating season.  Some people think that just because they change their air filters every once-in-awhile maintenance is complete.  NOT SO!  Depending on the efficiency of the filter in use, some dust particles will pass through the filter media and accumulate on blower blades, motors, and heat exchanger surfaces.  The burning smell often detected when the furnace is first started is the result of dust accumulation.  If the furnace is never cleaned, dust accumulation can ignite and spread outside of ductwork.  Similarly, if the controls area is never cleaned, burners can become clogged resulting in poor combustion and sometimes, delayed ignition.  Delayed ignition of gas/air mixtures can become explosive and when ignited, can release a tremendous amount of heat with deadly force.  Poor combustion can also produce carbon monoxide which when inhaled can be deadly, especially to elderly people and young children with respiratory problems.  Similarly, electric heating systems such as heat pumps should be checked for proper operation as well as components that are in good working condition.  One of the biggest problems that should be guarded against is the wiring insulation that becomes brittle with age and cracks.  Exposure of conductors can result in short circuiting leading to a fire which can then spread to the structure.  Just because a circuit is protected with a circuit breaker doesn’t mean that a fire can never develop.  Circuit breakers are current limiting devices NOT thermal limiting devices.  Heat exchange coils, motor, fans, and blowers in heat pumps should also be kept clean.  Heat pumps come in different configurations such as air to air, air to water, and air to ground.  In the last two configurations, a fluid such as water or glycol is circulated to transfer heat to or from the heat pump.  In order to do so, a pump is used to circulate the fluid and must also be serviced at certain times.  Failure to do so can result in pump motor burnouts that could result in fire.  Remember, the pump and its motor are usually two separate components unless intentionally manufactured as a single unit.  Lastly, there is not much that can be done with hot and steam boilers except to make sure that the wiring is in good condition, stack temperature is not excessive, and piping is also in good condition.  Also, remember that piping can also be a source of ignition.  Hot piping can ignite combustibles if contact is maintained long enough.  Maintenance is the key to preventing fires in heating equipment.

Happy Holidays

R. J. Hill Consulting would like to wish everyone a very Happy Holiday season.

33 Years and Counting

Thank you to all who have expressed their congratulations on our completion of 33 years in business.  This milestone would not have been possible without the support of our clients.  Thank you for placing your trust and confidence in us.

R.j.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

R.J. Hill Consulting would like to wish everyone a very

Happy Thanksgiving.

Deep Fryer Fires due to Lack of Maintenance

We recently investigated the cause of a deep fryer fire in a restaurant setting.  As you probably know, these appliances are everywhere, not just in commercial food establishments, but in homes as well.  They have been in use for a number of years and are tried and tested dependable pieces of equipment.  However, there is just one problem which seems to be constantly ignored by owners.  That is, a thorough cleaning!  It’s one thing to clean the surfaces that are easily reachable and say that the fryer is clean.  It’s quite another to clean the areas where grease accumulates and is ignored because these areas are hard to get into.  I’m talking about the places around the burners and controls.  I’m talking about the area where the gas line comes in and the connections are made.  Many people are afraid to get into the cabinet where the guts of the fryer (and stoves and grilles) are located.  And if you don’t know what you are doing, you’re probably better off leaving the cleaning to a professional.  That doesn’t mean that the cleaning should be put off until absolutely necessary, or as in this case, after a fire occurs.  Deep frying food causes cooking oil to splatter onto exterior surfaces.  Whether onto an exhaust hood or other appliances, the residue that accumulates becomes fuel for a potential fire.  In the recent case mentioned above, greasy residue was allowed to accumulate on the rear side of the fryer as well as the exhaust hood wall.  Greasy residue also accumulated inside the fryer’s exhaust duct enclosure and this was where the fire originated.  The fire started here because the heat from the exhaust was insulated by the greasy residue, raising the temperature of the exhaust gases to the ignition temperature of the residue.  As a reference, cooking oil ignites between 750 F and 800 F depending on the oil.  If the fire hadn’t been contained as quickly as it was, the fire would have eventually reached those grease laden areas behind the fryer and inside the control and burner area.  The fire would also have spread to the stove and grille which were also under the same exhaust hood as the fryer and in need of the same type of cleaning.  If you have to set aside a day to clean inside your cooking appliances – Do It! I promise you that the time and money you spend doing a little maintenance will be significantly less than spending days to clean up, if not rebuild, after a significant fire loss.  Just think about the lost revenue over one day as opposed to several weeks if not months.  Remember, you have control over your schedule and therefore you can plan for your downtime.  Your customers, employees and those close to you will all appreciate it.

To show you what I mean, the following photograph shows how dirty the burner and control area can get if not kept clean.

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This is the back of the fryer after it was removed from its place under the exhaust hood.  The burn pattern was created by the heat produced from burning on the inside the exhaust area of the fryer. The residue on the lower back was never touched and is therefore an example of how bad the accumulation can be if not cleaned regularly.

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The last photograph shows what the floor area looked like when the fryer was removed. The gas line, which is barely recognizable, was buried in the residue.

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