Yesterday was an important day for submarine sailors. On April 10th, 1963, USS Thresher was lost with all hands while performing deep-diving tests off the coast of New England. Despite an exhaustive investigation of the wreckage, the exact details remain unknown, but the evidence suggests that a seawater pipe weld failed, propulsion was lost, and the compressed air that was supposed to blow all the water out of the ballast tanks had high moisture content, causing it to freeze in the lines. With no way to stop the seawater coming in under tremendous pressure, no steam to turn the propeller to drive the ship to the surface, and no way to empty the ballast tanks to provide positive buoyancy, she plunged to the bottom, some 8,400 feet below the surface. That’s why we remember April 10th.
The tragedy resulted in something else we all became intimately familiar with: SUBSAFE. SUBSAFE is a comprehensive quality assurance program that covers all submarine systems exposed to sea pressure, as well as those that are critical to recovery from flooding. I can tell you from personal experience that maintenance evolutions on these systems is laborious, detailed, and meticulous. The paperwork can consume way more time than the work itself. If you were the one that wrote the work order, you dread the lengthy meeting with the QA Officer to review the package. If you’re performing the work, you’ll be “under the microscope,” as the Engineer, and possibly the Captain, peer over your work, potentially questioning your every move. And when you’ve put to sea and are diving to test depth to perform the final inspection, you don’t regret a thing…that’s how you maintain your dive-to-surface ratio at 1:1.
The success of, and confidence afforded by, the SUBSAFE program isn’t limited to the submarine community: After the Space Shuttle Columbia burned up on re-entry in 2003, the folks from NASA turned to the Navy’s SUBSAFE people for help and guidance in the enhancement of their already stringent safety programs and practices.
If you’re a regular reader of our Application Engineering blogs, you know we spend a fair amount of time on safety. Now, few of us need to approach the same level of safety program that is required in the construction, operation and maintenance of a nuclear sub or a Space Shuttle, but adherence to whatever plan you have is still a non-negotiable. Our lines of blow-off devices (Air Knives, Air Nozzles, etc.) are designed with safety in mind: none of them can be dead-ended, which means they comply with OSHA’s Directive STD 01-13-001 – STD 1-13.1, governing the use of compressed air for cleaning. Our Static Eliminators are common in applications where static charge presents a real hazard to personnel. Our Air Amplifiers can be used to quickly and efficiently ventilate tanks, pits, etc., if required for a Confined Space Entry job. Our new Chip Shields for our Safety Air Guns are a fine example of our focus on continuous progress in the safety field. If you think we can help, we’re eager to hear from you.
Incidentally, April 11th is a big day to submariners too.
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