General Meeting Presentation Feature

“Iron Sharpens Iron”


The following presentation was delivered at the 79th General Meeting Monday afternoon session, May 3rd, by Mark Mooney. It has been edited for content and phrasing.



Mark MooneySpeaker Bio: Mark Mooney currently holds certificates of competency and inspector commissions in 31 jurisdictions. In 2009 he accepted a position as Senior Engineering Specialist with Liberty Mutual's newly-formed Equipment Breakdown Division. In 2004 he assumed the title of acting chief of inspections for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In 2006 he became the state's chief of inspections/mechanical.


As a National Board member he was elected Second Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees in 2001 and First Vice Chairman in 2008. He presently serves on the National Board Inspection Code Subcommittee on Inspection and the ASME Power Division Plant Operations and Maintenance Committee.


He joined Massachusetts in 1996 as district engineering inspector. As chief of inspections, Mr. Mooney supervised 42 state elevator inspectors and eleven district engineering inspectors.


Graduated with a B.S. in Marine Engineering from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in 1986, Mr. Mooney began his professional career with Mooney Engineering before moving to Bechtel where he progressed from plant operator to chief engineer.


MR. MOONEY: It is written, "As iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another." I would like to show how this principle applies to our industry, particularly with jurisdictions and inspection agencies. My primary focus will be on communication and understanding communication. We will look at some best practices and opportunities for sharpening, and I will challenge you to practice sharpening others.


Many times sharpening is not a pleasant experience. A person forging a sword must use intense heat and constant blows with a hammer to produce a sharp blade. When we are sharpened we may also experience similar situations that make us uncomfortable, but it is part of the process. Sharpening can happen anytime. As a matter of fact, a good example occurred in my previous position.


One day my assistant approached me. He asked if I knew I was a master puzzle maker. I looked at him, confused. “Master puzzle maker? What are you talking about?” I asked.


He responded: “Whenever you give us a task, you give us 90 percent of what we need to do. You always save one piece of the puzzle. Most of the time we figure it out and get the job done. As a matter of fact, we always get the job done. But I just wanted to make you aware of this.”


I asked him why they didn't ask me for the missing piece of the puzzle. He said it was no big deal because they were always able to figure it out. I said, “Well, that's good. That's a good inspector.” But it made me think, “Are there times when we are master puzzle makers and don’t realize it?” Communication is so important. Even if you provide clearly written instructions, you cannot be guaranteed the recipient hasn’t missed any important details.   


A wise man said recently, presumption and assumption are perhaps the two biggest reasons why accidents occur. Here are some communication tools we can use to minimize assumption and presumption. The most common forms of communication we use today are Web sites, annual or periodic meetings, phone communication, and face-to-face communication. In my opinion, phone and face-to-face communication is preferable because you can see the intent of the person. E-mail is the least preferred form of communication because it fails to express emotion and intent. Additionally, not everyone checks their email regularly, so you cannot completely rely on email.


Let’s look at some other best practices in the industry (from an insurance perspective). Begin with written interpretations. A written interpretation of a rule or regulation is great because it ensures everybody is working off the same page. If you don't write written interpretations I highly encourage it. You may not have heard this before, but we do appreciate written interpretations. Regarding blanket variances, in some states they may not be allowed by law, but you can get through periods with revisions and regulations. If you have an item that needs to be done, you can use blanket variances.


Next is commissioning of inspectors. Each state issues commissions differently. There is a whole range, from issuing based on a National Board commission to passing an open book written exam within the allotted time. Passing an open book written exam means the inspector has to read the material at least once in order to be familiar with it before the exam. When preparing for a closed book written exam or for an oral exam, the inspector definitely has to study. But there is value in studying the material—the more effort you put into something, the more valuable it is.


We also have meetings—annual meetings and periodic meetings (including nonjurisdictional meetings). If you are an insurance company and have periodic or annual meetings, I highly encourage you to get the inspectors together. Invite the jurisdictional chief or the insurance jurisdictional inspectors to speak or even sit in and listen to what's going on. If you are a jurisdictional chief and you have an opportunity to speak with an inspector over lunch for a few minutes, you will find you can learn a lot from each other. I highly recommend face-to-face communication.


Another tool is the effective use of industry task groups. This can go both ways with insurance companies and jurisdictions. If you have an industry task group and you are going to make changes to a regulation or do something different, how is it going to impact those industries that will use it or are using it?


Periodic newsletters are great tools when used on a consistent basis. Some jurisdictions use periodic newsletters, such as North Carolina. They put a lot of effort into their weekly newsletter. They provide information about what’s going on and give kudos to inspectors who are doing a great job. They also put out a question of the week. For instance, it may be a question regarding ASME, which can be a good quiz for an inspector—a tool to sharpen him or her. If an inspector reads the questions they are challenged to find the answer. He or she will be a better inspector because they read that resource.


Web sites are another great tool. Everybody has them now. Back in the early '90s when I first started with the Department of Public Safety, I said, “Where is our Web site?” We didn't have one. So I went on and did something very basic compared to today’s Web sites. Here are some keys to good Web sites: Are links easily found? Are you using known terms, or wording only people in your office understand? Are you using ‘engineer’ too generically, because your information is on the World Wide Web. If you use the term ‘inspector,’ clarify—an inspector of what?


Is the site missing information such as relevant applications? Companies become frustrated looking for an application that's not on a site, but oftentimes they assume it will be there, even if the application doesn't exist. Make sure your site includes necessary applications. Does your site have lessons learned or examples of incidents? Is the contact information easily found and up to date? There have been times when I’ve gone to a site to get a name and number of a contact, but the information cannot be found.  The great thing about the National Board’s Web site is that contact information is quick and easy to find.


Other key elements of a good Web site include access to forms, frequently asked questions, and a resource page (inspector page, regulations and laws, etc.). Colorado and Minnesota are two other great examples of effective Web sites. For instance, Minnesota’s has a link of examples of failures, which are very helpful in sharing with customers the importance of doing repairs and inspections. Inspectors want to learn from accidents. A Web site that shares examples of failures and breaks down the cause of an accident is a great resource for inspectors and insurance companies. We can share with our customers’ case studies that demonstrate why they need an inspection on their water heater—why they need to replace a safety valve. Such resources reinforce our goal of trying to save lives and property.


You are all familiar with the National Board Web site. It is a great tool for the insurance industry.

You can look up contact information by state and find the Web site, e-mail address, and phone number of chief inspectors. There are also opportunities for sharpening—difficulties provide us with opportunities for sharpening. For instance, how a jurisdiction closes out violations can create unknown problems for inspection agencies, whether you realize it or not. Closing out violations without notifying the author can result in follow-up systems within insurance companies not getting flagged properly. The inspection agency thinks they still have an open violation when the jurisdiction or other inspection agency has closed it. Keep in mind some inspection agencies use violation tracking in loss prevention as well as setting performance criteria.


We have looked at some ways in which you can be sharpened, and in closing, I would like to end with a challenge. How can you sharpen others? Think of a person in your life that could use your assistance in some way. It could be a co-worker, industry professional, employee, apprentice, mentor, grandparents, in-laws, children, and even the homeless. It could be as simple as calling someone to say hello or more involved like mentoring. If you are not familiar with mentoring and don't know where to begin, or if you want to be mentored, ASME has a great site that helps match people in mentoring.


So what stops you from helping others? Think of a person you could help. Could it be personalities? Maybe you don't have the opportunity, time, or money. These are all things that could stop you from helping others. But what is the right thing to do? When you leave and go home, I challenge you to do the right thing.