Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Industrial Short Story - Burnout

From my forthcoming industrial construction murder mystery "Reduction of Forces".

Reduction of Forces

                  One day, Renee started a new project, and quickly became intrigued by a hand, for the first time ever. She had only watched him from afar at first, but now found herself interested. He was all over the place. On the first day, she watched him work with QC and the client, make a fit, expedite materials, and generally cheerlead and mentor the crew and newbies. Over the course of a week, he never seemed to notice her, much to her consternation.
                  Suddenly he did.
                  She was trying to drill bolt holes in a piece of circular plate and it was kicking her ass. Sweat streamed down her face, her goggles and faceshield kept fogging up, and she was getting frustrated. Then he walked by and casually said, “You’re working too hard.”
                  Great. She didn’t need this shit. Another asshole.
                  “Yeah, well, I gotta get it done. Hot job. We need to hang this by the end of the day.”
                  “But you’re working yourself too hard.”
                  “Thanks,” she said, miffed, and put her head back down and started drilling again.
                  He bent down close to her and put his gloved hand over hers, and said, “Slow down.”
                  Renee had had enough. Violation of her personal space aside, no matter how tingly it made her feel, she had a job to do. Nothing was going to slow her down.
                  She jerked her hand away said, “Why don’t you fucking do it then?”
                  Unperturbed, he picked up the drill and began to work where she had left off, but drilling at a quarter of the speed she had been. At first it was infuriating, and she almost snatched the drill out of his hand, or screamed at him to hurry the fuck up. But then, despite his pace, the first hole popped through. He didn’t look up, but just continued patiently along the same rate. Renee was too in awe to stop him. Thirty minutes later, hardly breaking a sweat, the task was done. Her task. Early.
                  “That’s a good layout,” he complimented her.
                  “How did you…”
                  “You were annealing it.”
                  “A whatting it?”
                  “When you apply heat to stainless like that, it makes it harder. So the faster you drilled…”
                  “The harder I worked.”
                  Renee looked him dead in the eyes.
                  “Fuck. Me.”
                  No reaction.
                  “Why didn’t my piece of shit foreman tell me that?” Renee wondered aloud, as much as to herself as to him.
                  “Probably doesn’t know himself. We take a lot of half-assed fitters and make them foreman. It’s a sickness. Plus, when they get a white hat, they lose their minds.”
                  “Well, thank you. I like learning things.”
                  He nodded.
                  She glanced at his hat. “Jason. What’s your real name?”
                  “Psycho. Pipe detective.”
                  “Thanks… Psycho. I guess the least I could do is let you take me out to dinner.”
                  He smiled, but it was vaguely… derisive?
                  “No thanks necessary. It’s… what I do. Have a good day, Ms. Hollander.”
                  With that, he turned and walked away. She was entranced.
                  “It’s Renee!” she called out after him, but he only raised his hand and waved behind to her, going on to whatever it was he did.
                  Renee loaded the manway cover into a wheelbarrow by laying it on its side, sliding it in, and then righting it. She wheeled it over to the vessel, rolled the plate up, and stuck a bolt. An hour later, her hot project was completed. She walked back to the foreman’s print-shack whistling, no longer even sweating.
                  “What are you doing here?” he asked her. “I told you I needed that done today.”
                  “Done,” she said. “Call QC. I’m going to lunch. Early.”
                  Days later, Renee continued to observe the activities of the only construction worker to ever pique her interest. He had started to occupy her thoughts, competing with her focus on work, and she decided she needed to know more. While she was standing around bullshitting with several other fitters and foremen, waiting on a crane, she decided to inquire about him.
                  “What’s that guy do?” she asked when she saw him pass by, holding prints, looking up and shaking his head.
                  “Psycho? He’s QC,” one said.
                  “Naw. Hell no. He’s a general foreman,” said another.
                  “I thought he was a fitter,” offered a third.
                  “He’s a fuckin’ field engineer.”
                  “He acts like he works for safety.”
                  Renee decided to find out for herself. Later that day, she cornered him by the tank farm. He was crouched down, seemingly oblivious to his approach. Without looking up he said, “Good morning, Ms. Hollander.”
                  “Hello, Psycho… How do you know I’m Ms. And not Mrs.?”
                  “It’s my job to know.”
                  “Oh? How’s that?”
                  “You’d be surprised at the amount of information needed to build a plant, even discounting the prints and specs. I need all the help I can get.”
                  “Well, to put it another way, what’s your classification?”
                  He stopped what he was doing and looked at her.
                  “Top helper.”
                  “Top helper.”
                  “I heard you. But, really? I know you’re better than that.”
                  He shrugged. “I guess. But they let me do what I want, this way. Or what they need, as opposed to what they say they want.”
                  Renee just stared in disbelief, so he elaborated.
                  “The higher up the chain you get, the more bullshit you have to deal with. This way, I can focus on building the plant. Sure, I could fit, but then that’s about all I’m allowed to do. I tend to get in trouble then, because I have my fingers in too many pies. So to speak.
                  “Foreman? Meh. Too many dummies, too many rules. By the time you make superintendant, you’re so out of touch with the work that you become counter productive.”
                  “But the pay…”
                  “I’m single. I’m frugal. I have a few patents I’m working on, some software. In the meantime, I build plants. My other projects could only have happened as an outgrowth of that.”
                  “I see.”
                  “From what I can tell, you’ll go far here.”
                  “Really? Thanks.”
                  “Honesty is my biggest vice, Ms. Hollander. Construction work is honesty. Remember that.”
                  “Thanks. I will.”
                  Renee was in a tizzy for weeks after her last encounter with Psycho. She masturbated far more furiously and frequently than ever, but it no longer was enough for her. She wanted him. Badly. So badly that she decided to force the issue and ask him out, breaking her own rule about dating construction workers. Then again, having spent so much time around them, she began to realize that they were the only men she could date, realistically. Everyone else seemed like shitpukes to her, parodies of real men.
                  Damned if she did, and damned if she didn’t. So she did it.
                  The next Monday, after she had thought about it all weekend, Renee worked up the nerve to approach him. It’s so silly, she thought. All of her usual confidence seemed to have evaporated. What if he shot her down? Would he? Why would he? She spent part of each day spurning the advances of everyone from superintendents to waterboys. Getting anything she wanted from them would be no problem. But all she wanted was to be left alone. Now the situation was reversed, and she feared rejection.
                  That day at lunch, instead of eating at the printshack like she normally did, Renee went to the lunchtent and found him sitting alone, reading some technical manual and distractedly eating peanut butter sandwiches.
                  She sat down across from him and said, “Hello, Psycho…”
                  He looked up, smiled, and said, “Hey, Renee,” then closed the book he had been studying.
                  All her fears dissipated in an instant. She felt she was where she belonged – with him. They talked all through lunch, about everything under the sun. The conversation was so engrossing, Renee forgot to ask him out. But as they rose to go, he said, “See you tomorrow…,” and she knew he meant at lunch. So all week they sat together, alone, and the chemistry was electric. In his own subtle way, he began to let her know he was interested as well. On Thursday, she popped the question.
                  “Dinner tomorrow night?”
                  “I’d like that…” he said.
                  She was elated. So elated, her mother looked at her strangely when she got home that night. Renee almost told her. Almost.
                  Friday at lunch they made plans. Well, he made plans, and she agreed. It was a relief to Renee to not have to be in charge for a change. It was also a turn-on. He gave her the name and address of a restaurant she’d never heard of, but sounded fancy.
                  “I made reservations for nine,” he told her.
                  “Why so late?”
                  “Meh. I might have to stay over an hour or two. Hot tap – So that’ll give you time to get ready, and me, as well, if everything goes okay.”
                  Renee didn’t even ask what a hot tap was.
                  She spent the day in a daze. Could she be in love? How was that even possible? She had nothing to compare it to. The joy of working and achieving didn’t come close to what Renee was experiencing. Not even what she felt for her own mother compared to the feeling she was having. It was frightening. And thrilling.
                  That evening she left work not even thinking about the project – another first. At home, her mom seemed to notice her unusual level of distraction, but said nothing. Renee half expected her to ask if she was on drugs. She took a long luxurious bath, washed, then shaved her legs and patch for the first time since puberty. Perhaps she was getting ahead of herself, but if he wanted to make love to her, it was a done deal. She had already made up her mind.
                  She took her time doing her hair and put on makeup – both things she hadn’t done since she quit school. Finally, she put on… a dress. One of the few she owned, usually reserved for special occasions like Christmas. Renee surveyed the results, and actually felt good about the way she looked out of her construction gear. She hoped he felt the same way, and was pretty sure he would.
                  On the way out, twenty minutes before the reservation, her mom stopped her.
                  “Renee! Where are you going?”
                  “Got a date, ma.”
                  “A date? With a boy?”
                  “With a duck, ma.”
                  “Not a boy, ma. A man. Someone I work with.”
                  “Is that a good idea?”
                  “It is in this case, ma. He’s cute, smart, works hard, and is a gentleman. I really like him a lot.”
                  “What does he do?”
“Pipe. A helper.”
                  “Renee! You need to date a foreman or something.”
                  “I don’t care about money, ma. He’s better than any foreman I’ve ever met.”
                  “I suppose. If he makes you happy.”
                  “Love you, ma. Gotta go.”
                  “Don’t be too late…”
                  “I might not be home tonight.”
                  She walked out the door.
                  She arrived at the restaurant right on time, due to some intense driving. He wasn’t there yet, so she was seated. After fifteen minutes, she started eating bread and had a coke out of nervousness. After thirty minutes, she grew irritated. By the forty-five minute mark, she was mad. After an hour, Renee got up to leave. He was just another asshole like the rest.
                  On her way out, though, someone in a safety vest walked up to her and handed her two envelopes. She didn’t recognize the helper at first, because he didn’t have his hard hat and glasses on.
                  “Mr. Psycho sends his regards,” he told her, and turned to leave.
                  “Wait! What? Where is he?”
                  “Still working.”
                  “This late?”
                  “You know how he is…”
                  And she did, because she knew herself. In her hands were two envelopes, one marked ‘Renee’ and the other ‘open in the event of my death’.
                  “Gotta run,” the helper, Mikey, said. “I snuck out to bring you these. He’s really sorry. Looked like he wanted to cry. Never saw him like that before.”
                  He waved as he walked off, on his way back to the jobsite. Renee’s feelings had done a one-eighty in seconds. She felt dizzy, and that was before she looked at the envelopes. Her name written on the first was an obvious attempt at penmanship by someone with sloppy handwriting. She smiled broadly. It was so cute as to be heartwarming.  Then she looked at the second and felt a chill deep within her. What the fuck? With shaking hands, she opened the one with her name on it.
                  “Dearest Renee,                  
                  I say that not as a standard, clich├ęd opening, but in the most forgotten sense of the word. You are dear to me, already.
                  Believe it or not, but I’ve known about you since two projects ago. People had started telling me about you then, saying you were like a female me: hardworking, project-oriented, and fanatical about piping. How could I not be intrigued? In fact, if you check, you’ll find that I had someone put a bug in your ear about this job, and then made sure you had a req if you ever called.
                  I took a chance, and it paid off. I’m sorry I didn’t give you more attention, but it had to be your choice, not mine. I know how those hardlegs must hound you, and how annoying it must be. Not only that, but I’m not one for casual flings.
                  I’m only interested in a lifetime commitment.
                  Plus, talking to women on a job site can off as sketchy, especially if you’re a weirdo like me. So, thank you for making the first move. I’m pretty stoic, but I was secretly overjoyed.
                  I still am.
                  So, what happened was, we’re doing a hot tap on a live natural gas line. That’s when you drill a hole and weld on an o-let with valve without shutting the line down and purging it. I’ve done them before, but only on low pressure water lines. This is the big league.
                  My old GF, my first in industrial, told me to always be sure of wall thickness if you have to do something like that, for obvious reasons. He had a heart attack and died, but the evil little fucker’s voice is still in my head. There was no one else who knew how to do one available, and it is my job. In a sense.
                  I’m relatively sure you’d do the same.
                  Anyway, I’d be done, but I got into it with my foreman, GF, Area GF, and superintendant about the pipe schedule. They say it’s extra strong, and I maintain it’s standard wall. I don’t want to say I’m usually right, because I know how that sounds. But I’m usually right.
                  It’s an old line, and we don’t have proper drawings for it. Everyone here is pissed off since I called safety to shut them down until they could prove the pipe wall is what they say it is.
                  So, I apologize for standing you up. The way I look at it, we have the rest of our lives. Maybe we could make some little pipefitter babies some day. I’m thinking ‘James’ and ‘Charlotte’. Twins would be awesome.
                  Anyway, call me superstitious, but the other envelope contains all of my patent and software concepts, among other things. Understand that they’re – in some cases – ten to twenty years away from being feasible, but they will all eventually be possible. When that time comes, I hope you and I can be well-poised to take advantage of them, and retire. Hawaii, maybe?
                  Anyway, I should see you in the morning, and I’ll be really embarrassed for being so nervous.
                  But since I have that excuse, Renee, would you allow me the honor of courting you for a year, and then proposing marriage? Nothing would make me happier, and my life more complete, than that.

All My Love,
                  Tears streamed down Renee’s face as she carefully refolded his letter and put it back in the envelope. She would show it to their children someday, she decided. Because she knew he was the one. She rushed home, ready to tell her mother that she would be getting married in a year, no matter what she thought about it.
                  When she walked in the door, her mother shouted her name, and rushed to embrace her. Over her shoulder, she saw a huge fire on the news.
                  “To repeat our top story, the Yokohama tire plant expansion project has suffered a massive explosion. Sixteen people are still unaccounted for…”
                  Renee pushed her mother aside, knocking her to the floor. Once at the TV, she paused for a moment. The sight of the flames seared her very soul, blackening her heart to romance forever.
                  She knew he was dead.
                  She picked up the TV, ran to the window, and heaved it through the glass. Crying so hard she couldn’t see, she locked herself in her room, and didn’t emerge for three days, despite her mother’s repeated attempts to talk to her. She was done with industrial work forever.
                  A week later, she reapplied to work the burn-out, cutting out the existing pipe – now charred and twisted – and started to rebuild.
                  Psycho would’ve wanted it that way.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

'Safety' Isn't Always Safe

If you've ever worked an industrial job, even for a day, you know that safety is stressed over anything else. Contrast that with commercial work, where minor and moderate injuries are a daily occurrence. It's perhaps even over-emphasized, to the point of interfering with your ability to get the job done, at times.

I'm not complaining. I enjoy living, and not getting hurt.

In commercial work, we run more pipe before ten o'clock that an industrial crew will do all day. At the same time, doing commercial, I've: put a hole saw into my forearm, knelt on a glowing red coupon, put out a fire on an acetylene bottle, and stood on top of a ladder on top of some plywood on top of a scissor lift. Without a harness.

Half of the people working commercial are stoned, or on pills. Some of them are drunk. I've also only been around one death in commercial work, personally, though. Three people have died in this area alone this summer working industrial, due to heat stroke/exhaustion. Which leads me to this column.


Let me give you a few specific examples about how safety programs and rules can actually decrease safe conditions, and lead to problems like this.

For some crazy reason, water bottles are not allowed on site. That's right, you're supposed to drink a lot of water (and work hard), but you can't fill up a plastic bottle and keep it with you. For some crazy reason. Instead, you have to drink (probably fluoridated) water from 4 oz. paper cones (bleached with dioxin), out of a cooler (plastic with lead in it).


You're supposed to keep your energy levels up and eat well, BUT IN SOME AREAS OF THE PLANT, YOU"RE NOT ALLOWED TO EAT AT BREAK.

Fucking mindless, man. Fucking mindless.

The most famous example of braindead safety practices is tying off above six feet. Guess what? At six to eight feet, perhaps as high as ten YOU'RE STILL GOING TO HIT THE FUCKING GROUND with no slowdown whatsoever.

So you're saddled with a cumbersome harness that catches on everything, and trips you, causing more hazards than if you wore nothing.

Most egregious, one of the safety people on site doesn't care about making sure you actually work safe. She just tries to make a name for herself in the field and industry by fucking you over. She'll correct you on something minor, pretend everything is fine, and then run back to her boss. THIS IS OUR FUCKING CAREER AND LIVES HERE, LADY. Don't fuck with us.

I've been told to enter an invalid confined space, without the proper number of legal exits, despite my protests. I was told to mark a spot on a slope, and then told when I got out that it was a termination offense to go on the slope. Stupid. That GF is no longer with us, at least. But industrial foreman want it both ways: get it done, but they don't have your back when you do.

Now I'm in a different area, and we're on slopes all the time. The very lack of consistency is dangerous, not to mention morale-killing,

This is a great example of how empty-headed things have become, by focusing on policy instead of actually common sense safety.

I was having a bad morning. Not enough sleep due to moving, I think. I had to update some barricade tags. The originals said something like 'Danger to life and safety'. So when I rewrote them, I unthinkingly put 'IDLH'.

Immediate Danger to Life and Health...

Stupid of me, to be sure. That's a very specific term, and it didn't apply there. My fucking mistake.

I corrected the problem within minutes. It created no unsafe condition whatsoever. Affected nothing.

Now there's a picture of one hanging in the safety office. And I was almost written up.

That's not the bad part, however. Just prologue to this.

While the piping superintendent was fuming at me about it next to the trench (he didn't think 'At least no one will go into the confined space' - a trench, was very funny), HE WALKED UNDER A BOOM, AND ALMOST INTO A STICK OF 30" PIPE THAT WAS BEING FLOWN. Way, way more serious than what he was focused on.

The same pieces of pipe were being staged on styrofoam blocks, with tiny little chocks the size of doorstops. NO. NO. NO. The 90s weren't hanging down, they were half on the plywood and styrofoam, creating a stored energy condition that could have made them roll and fall down. THEY COULD HAVE KILLED SOMEONE. I could have pushed them off. All it would have taken was for the crane to bump them.

I told him, he ignored me. I told a foreman, who said that I was wrong. I tried to tell the G.F., who ignored me entirely and walked away.

Mindless adherence to safety rules, instead of focusing on actually working safe, kills people. I am not cool with that. Get your fucking heads out of your fucking asses, people.

- Psycho

Please upvote me on Steemit.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

What The Fuck Happened To the Industrial Construction Industry?

I started out building golf courses when I was sixteen. Then I did private estate management in California. Eventually. HVAC and plumbing. I finally fell into industrial construction as a pipefitter, and I'm really happy with it. I make a ton of money, get a lot of exercise, and work with great people.
But the industry done lost its mind.
Now, I've only been in it for eight years, but even that is long enough to see massive changes being made to the way we do things. Changes that are going to get a lot of people killed someday. I'm mainly talking about credentials, and the hiring process. Safety is another issue for another column, but it's also a factor.
When I got my NCCER certification seven years ago, it was a big deal. I earned top pay. got priority hiring, and per diem. Now so many people have cheated to get certified, it's become meaningless. To get hired on now, I have to do a skills assessment test. My cert counts for almost nothing.
I'm not opposed to skill assessment, don't get me wrong. But it's just what I expect a helper to know how to do. The same thing occurs as with the NCCER: people find out from others what the test consists of, and learn just enough to pass it. That's not helping make new hands that know what they're doing.
The industry as a whole gives very little consideration to retention. Every time I see a good foreman leave a job he's been on, for a dollar an hour more, or because he's tired of the nonsense, I cringe. That's a half-million bucks worth of site-specific knowledge walking off of the site.
The pay scales are getting all out of whack. I'm making $29 as a plus. In Baytown, one company is paying top helpers $28, and top fitters $31... They're trying to build plants with helpers, now. That's dangerous. A good pipefitter knows how to get things done without cheating. This is vital to building a plant that will operate safely. Inexperienced fitters will get in a bind, and cut corners, rendering the pipe at risk to rupture at a later date.
Likewise, I know of a QC who is getting "on the job training" become a QC. She's not a pipefitter. She's paid as a QC, to learn to become a QC. That is something that can really only be learned well after a few years in the field. God only knows what sort of stuff she is missing. I've caught 25-year veteran QCs missing things.
The current safety person we're dealing with...creates hazards. Instead of helping with safety, they create unsafe conditions by worrying about trivial issues, and ignoring big, life-threatening ones. Unlike a decent safety person who helps out, this one is creating a hostile atmosphere of fear. That's not good for anyone, obviously.
Ordinarily, I say that we work each piping iso three times before were done. On the last job I was on, it was more like SEVEN. And then we were seven months past schedule. Then there was an emergency shutdown a month after it started up.
This is not the place to cut corners with personnel. But these companies are, and they're getting away with it in the short term. In the long-term? There will be terrible tragedies. Mark my words.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Pipefitting - Credentials


Safety Council


Security Passport


Pipefitting - Companies

I'll maintain a running list of regional and national pipefitting companies here, both industrial and commercial.

Industrial Contractors

Turner Industries
Quinn Guidry - 225-300-8100

Shaw Group

S & B Engineers and Constructors
Steve Oler
Craft Personnel Manager
Stephanie Harper
Eddie Salazar
Stephanie Adamson
Ronnie Balentine
Training and Development Coordinator 
Tracy Riendeau
Training Coordinator 

Repcon - (361) 289-6342

Performance Contractors

Starcon International




Explosion at Chevron Plant - Richmond, California

This started as a simple diesel line leak. No one was killed.

Ever done a burnout of a plant? It's a complete teardown. You remove everything to the foundations, usually. And cold-cut everything, because of the chemicals and potential for fire.

So, there's work in Richmond, I imagine.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Welcome to

Finally, a site where you can find the best industrial jobs for pipefitters. Stay tuned...