We stood at our benches, half disbelieving the instructor, who said, "Now that you've scored the glass, just hold it firmly in both hands, and twist your wrists outward. The glass will break cleanly."
No way! Break glass with our bare hands? We'll slash ourselves and bleed to death! Nervously, we neophyte stained glass artisans grimaced, looked away and, with trembling hands, tried to do as we were told. Some, afraid of using too much force, either didn't break the glass or did, indeed, cut themselves. A couple of students, obviously too dumb to know better, did exactly as they were told and broke the glass cleanly. No cut fingers either.
One lesson I learned from that long-ago stained glass class was that the more you fear some object or device, the more likely it is that it will injure you. Things have a way of living up to your worst expectations. You have a much better chance of success if you approach it with confidence. Hold that glass firmly and snap it -- don't worry about getting cut. If you do it right, you probably won't.
The same thinking applies to process heating equipment. Those ovens and dryers pack a lot of energy in the form of fuel or electricity. People know if they screw up, they could be in a world of hurt, and that often leads to this scenario. Let's listen in:
- A maintenance tech has just been asked to tune up an oven that hasn't been running right. As he's slowly gathering up his tools, he's thinking, "Ohgeeohgeeohgee, I don't want to adjust this oven. Why couldn't they wait until ol' Pete is back from deer hunting? He knows what he's doing -- that's why the rest of us always let him do it."
We're all aware that a mix of too little knowledge and too much confidence is a recipe for trouble -- it's a standard Hollywood theme. In real life, everyone seems to know a story about some fool who refuses to admit his ignorance of a piece of equipment, charges in without any idea of what he's doing, and provokes a disaster. It's a standard scenario, but it's not the only one. Unfortunately, a good number of problems also arise when people have too little confidence in their own common sense and knowledge of how equipment works.
Certainly, if you have the luxury of begging off a job because you don't feel up to it. But, if you're stuck with it and you doubt your own knowledge or skills, you may back into trouble by failing to take decisive action. Not doing the right thing at the right time can be just as dangerous as doing the wrong thing.
True to the engineers' code, I've tried to sum this up in figure 1, by showing the danger level associated with different combinations of knowledge and confidence. The upper and lower left corners of the chart represent the most dangerous combinations - low levels of knowledge coupled with either too much or too little confidence. Moderate confidence levels are a shade better, but nothing to stake your well-being on.
As knowledge increases, the situation improves at all confidence levels. The best combination comes from a combination of moderate-to-high levels of both knowledge and confidence. You'll notice, though, that I've downgraded the safety level at very high levels of knowledge and confidence - that's what I call Dr. Frankenstein's Corner. It's reserved for those megalomaniacal geniuses who let an excess of confidence cloud their good judgment. Arrogance has taken over.
And that's what it all boils down to. If you're going to operate or maintain process heating equipment, learn all you can about it and exercise your knowledge regularly to build your confidence. Then you won't lose your nerve when the chips are down.