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Was all for nothing?

Author : Prof. Dr. Thorsten Arnhold, IECEx Chairman 2014-2019

07 June 2022

Every two months, Prof. Dr. Thorsten Arnhold, IECEx Chairman 2014-2019, provides an update on developments within the organisation.

(Click here to view article in digital edition)

I am writing this article at the beginning of May, and it is difficult not to mention the war in Ukraine, which is currently impacting the world like no other event. A memorable event in the history of industrial safety occurred to me in this context.

During the industrial revolution, modern technical products and systems such as steam engines found their way into the mining industry. This significantly increased the number of possible ignition sources for firedamp in the mines. In addition to the open flames, there were now also hot surfaces to deal with. Due to the significantly higher amounts of energy used, the probability of mechanical impact sparks also increased.

Because of this development, explosions with numerous fatalities were recorded on a regular basis. In order to change this situation effectively and permanently, the systematic investigation of explosions and the development of effective countermeasures began in the second half of the nineteenth century. In the leading coal-producing countries such as France (1877), Belgium (1879), UK (1879) and Saxony (1880), so-called “firedamp commissions” were set up for this purpose.

Since one was mainly dependent on scientifically founded experimental work for the secure acquisition of knowledge, special test institutes were founded for this purpose. In Germany, these were referred to as “test adits” because the core of each was an elongated tunnel and the cross-section of which corresponded to that of the underground adits of the time. These were all equipped with comparable test facilities. It is worth noting that international cooperation between the test authorities began just a few years after the start of these scientific and technical tests.

Representatives of the test organisations from France, England, the US, Belgium, Austria and Germany met for the first time at an international mine safety conference in Pittsburgh in 1912. Two years before the First World War began, during which millions of young people from precisely these countries deliberately and purposefully killed each other, they discussed together how the death of several hundred miners could be avoided by better safety facilities underground. Unfortunately, human history continues to show such peculiar and often tragi-comic features up to the present day. However, one could also conclude that business is often more sensible than politics!

Today, 120 years later, we are in a comparable situation. Even months after the start of the terrible war in mainland Europe, I can hardly believe that a country whose representatives have fought with us in the international standards organisations for the safety and well-being of people in the chemical and petrochemical industry is simply attacking a neighbouring country and committing the most atrocious crimes there.

People who may have sat and worked together in meetings of international standardisation groups before the pandemic today are bitterly fighting each other, killing, torturing and stealing from each other, or at least find it morally justified to do so – incomprehensible and unacceptable!

Does that mean, however, that our constant efforts for understanding between peoples and those in the field of international standardisation are in vain? And that at the end of the day, the aggressive instincts in people always have the upper hand? I do not think so. I am still convinced that the coexistence of peoples can only be achieved through open and free communication, through free business dealings and through mutual respect and understanding. All aspects promoted by international standardisation.

However, Russia's war against Ukraine, especially as a German, also taught me that all this only works safely if you consider the old Roman saying: "Sinis pacem para bellum!" (If you want peace, prepare for war!)

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