What is a thermal hazards technician?
Thermal Hazards technicians are the main people that perform experiments for the Thermal Hazards team. On top of performing the experiments we keep the lab stocked with supplies, manage our chemical inventory, and generally maintain the lab to keep it running smoothly.
How would you describe your role at FAI?
My main role is to perform thermal stability experiments, and we have a few instruments to test with different ASTM standards. Performing these experiments involves calibrating the instruments’ readings to ensure the values are accurate, ensuring all the safety features on the instrument are functioning properly, preparing the sample, setting up and running the tests, and then cleaning up after the test is complete. I keep the lab stocked with supplies required to run the experiments, such as waste containers, tools, nuts and other fittings, wipes and other cleaning supplies, and PPE to make sure everyone in the lab is safe. I am also the calibration custodian, which means it is my responsibility to make sure the equipment stays within calibration and to trace back any problems or wrong numbers when the equipment is found to be out of calibration. I am proud that our lab is ISO 17025 certified.
What was your background before coming to FAI?
I was an undergraduate at The University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. I got my Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering with a concentration in Biomolecular Engineering in May 2019 and started at Fauske & Associates LLC in August 2019. Before working here I did not have any professional experience, so I have learned a lot in the past few months.
What is it that brought you to FAI?
In all honesty, I only learned about Fauske shortly before I started working here. But after researching what Fauske does, it was clear their work was important. It also seemed fun and interesting. I don’t get to know all the details of customers’ processes, but I do get glimpses into the chemistry of the reactions, and I find that very interesting. And because every reaction is different, every test is different in some way.
What drew you to the Chemical/Nuclear process industry?
Chemical process safety is an important line of work. There are countless incidents where peoples’ lives could have been saved if the hazards were properly managed. We can’t change what has happened in the past, but we can learn from it and stop it from happening again. Working in process safety is also almost selfless; you don’t get recognition or fame for the good work you do. When the emergency relief system you helped design is successful, the result is practically nothing happening (no serious consequences). "Nothing happened" is absolutely better than the unfortunate alternative, but it won’t make headlines. And that’s fine, I can be satisfied knowing I helped prevent people from getting hurt.
What do you enjoy most about thermal hazards?
I like knowing that the work I do helps keep people and communities safe and healthy. I also enjoy that each test is never identical to another. The lab instrument doesn’t physically change a whole lot, but each test is a different process using different chemicals which can yield vastly different results. And even when the recipes are similar, it’s interesting to see how slight alterations can drastically change the results.
What have been some of the highlights of your career?
There haven’t been any big events that I would consider a highlight, but I’ve learned a lot in my time here at Fauske, as well as getting valuable technical experience, which I am grateful for. My colleagues have been great to work with; they’re understanding and appreciative and have plenty of advice and knowledge to share. They make it easy to enjoy working here.
What are some of the skills and characteristics that are most important for those who work in thermal hazards?
Attention to detail, patience, and communication are all important. Our work directly affects peoples’ lives, so making sure everything is correct for that specific test is important. Sometimes the set-up can be long, or the sample frustrating to work with, so being patient will help make sure the results are accurate. Good communication skills affects multiple facets of the work we do; we need to be able to ask the right questions so our tests can be designed to correctly simulate the customers’ processes, we need to be able to communicate the hazards associated with the materials we are working with to the other people in the lab to make sure they know how to be safe, and we need to communicate exactly how the test was performed to the customer so they know the conditions that generated these results and are aware that changing any of those conditions in their process can have consequences not shown in our results.
Do you have any advice for future or aspiring people who might consider a career as a thermal hazards technician?
Mistakes will happen as you learn new skills such as setting up a thermal hazards test. It is important to have a questioning attitude and be willing to put in the time to make sure things are done right. It is not ideal repeating tests, but it is important that the experiments are done correctly because process safety decisions may be influenced by our test data.
Interested in asking questions of your own or getting in touch with another member of our team? Contact us below!