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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » January 27, 2011
UDT: Marking 100 years
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Special Section: UDT: From Steam Boilers to Nuclear Power Plants
January 27, 2011   
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Marek Walczak, president of the Office of Technical Inspection (UDT), talks to Andrzej Jonas and Andrzej Ratajczyk.

This year marks 100 years of technical inspection services in Poland. Does this mean that the predecessor of the Office of Technical Inspection was set up seven years before Poland regained independence after World War I?
That is true. The Polish technical inspection system came into being before an independent Second Republic of Poland emerged. But one should remember that the history of technical inspection worldwide is much longer. The first technical inspection organizations were set up in the mid-19th century when steam boilers came into widespread use as a source of energy to power machines. But boiler explosions occurred every now and again, resulting in a loss of life, damage to factory buildings and so on. Such events had their economic and social consequences. Workers, fearing for their life, did not want to work at factories using steam boilers. As a result, businesspeople concluded that the design and operation of steam boilers should be inspected by steam boiler specialists. Associations of boiler users started to pop up. Their aim was to help businesspeople ensure the safe operation of this equipment.

The beginnings of technical supervision in Poland date back to Jan. 7, 1911. That day the Russian minister of industry and trade approved a statute drawn up by Polish industrialists, permitting the establishment of the Warsaw Steam Boiler Inspection Association. Unlike inspection organizations operating in areas of Poland partitioned between Austria and Prussia, the inspection organization in the part of Poland controlled by Russia and known as the Kingdom of Poland, relied on all-Polish staff.

What was the Polish technical inspection system like in the interwar period?
In March 1919, Chief-of-State Józef Piłsudski issued a decree under which the Warsaw Steam Boiler Inspection Association took over technical inspection responsibilities nationwide. In 1921, a law was adopted under which inspection organizations from areas of Poland formerly occupied by partitioning powers were allowed to operate provided their statutes were approved by the industry and trade minister. As a result, there were three inspection associations operating in Poland in the interwar period, based in Warsaw, Poznań and Katowice.

Was the technical inspection system still in place during World War II?
When Poland was under Nazi occupation, Germany’s Technische Überwachung Verein took over the responsibilities of the Boiler Inspection Associations in Katowice and Poznań, and the almost all-Polish technical staff was replaced with Germans. In the part of occupied Poland called the General Government, the Association of Technical Inspection in Warsaw was moved to Cracow. Inspection responsibilities were exercised by Polish engineers there.

As soon as World War II ended, Boiler Inspection Associations began operating in Poznań, Warsaw and Katowice in 1945. That same year the industry minister introduced a receivership procedure in these associations. In 1950, the associations were wound up and replaced with the Office of Technical Inspection (UDT), which supervised and coordinated the operations of the Bureaux of Technical Inspection in Katowice, Warsaw and Poznań. In 1961, a new law on technical inspection came into force, repealing the prewar law on steam boiler inspection. The UDT, as a central organization, was responsible for supervising District Technical Inspection organizations in Katowice, Poznań and Warsaw, which in turn were in charge of Local Technical Inspection organizations. The technical inspection system survived in this shape until 1982, when a single organization was formed.

In terms of general rules of operation, does the existing Office of Technical Inspection differ much from its predecessor, which was set up in 1911?
As regards its mission and main tasks, I do not see any major differences. Nor has the work ethic changed among technical inspection personnel. The aim of the businesspeople who founded the technical supervision system was to set up a specialist institution that would support them in the area of safety. This is why professionalism is a key requirement in this business. Equally important is independence and impartiality. These are the basic values we contribute to the system for ensuring technical safety.

Do the UDT’s services exclusively result from obligations imposed on manufacturers or does the office also provide inspections that are not required by law?
Prior to Poland’s entry to the European Union most of our activity could be termed as technical inspection services obligatory for firms. But now, a major part of our business associated with the design and manufacture of equipment subject to inspection is conducted along commercial lines. In this market segment, we have to compete with other organizations appointed by the economy minister to perform tasks connected with the EU’s New Approach Directives—that is notified, competent and independent bodies. These are both Polish and foreign bodies, which have the right to operate across the EU. The UDT, as a notified body, may also operate on the EU market.

How is the UDT organized and how many people does it employ?
The UDT now employs over 1,500 people, of whom 1,000 are technical specialists. These are well-educated individuals with extensive experience. The way in which the UDT is organized has to correspond with one of the basic rules of its operation—the need to be close to the users of the equipment subject to technical inspection. The law on technical inspection states that, in order to ensure continuity of production, technical inspectors must arrive within 12 hours after a problem has been reported in a production plant. In fact, we are able to show up at every user’s site within two hours and in 95 percent of the cases as quickly as within an hour.

Does this mean that the UDT has branches throughout Poland?
It does. We have 29 branches distributed relatively evenly across the country. We provide technical inspection through these branches. In Warsaw, we have our headquarters coordinating the branches’ operations.

In today’s world, technology is changing fast. As a result, technical inspection staff have to continually upgrade their skills and qualifications.

Professional growth of our staff is one of the most important challenges we face. We have adopted a rule whereby our staff should set aside at least 10 percent of their work time for education and training. Training courses are provided by our UDT training center but also other institutions. Nowadays safety depends mainly on people and the level of their technical expertise. Producing a safe device is not a problem these days. The problem is to ensure its safe operation in the chain of activities mutually supporting each other. Since man is the weakest link in the chain, education is all-important. Our goal is to have training centers in all our branches so that they could provide training in the area of technical safety to the users of technical equipment.

The UDT did a huge job in terms of training in the period before Poland’s entry to the EU, providing information on EU technical safety regulations to tens of thousands of businesspeople.

The UDT will soon have to respond to new challenges, including those associated with the planned construction of nuclear power plants in Poland...

The UDT already has some experience in this area because we performed technical inspections connected with the manufacture of equipment for a nuclear power plant planned [but never constructed] in Żarnowiec over 20 years ago. At present, we are ready to join the new nuclear program.

What, in your view, are the greatest challenges connected with technical safety in Poland today?
I think that Poland has similar problems in this area as other EU countries. The EU’s technical safety system is a new system. In the past, when national regulations were in force, every device had to be checked for safety by a specialist institution before it could enter the market. Now, state services no longer check devices before these are placed on the market. They only check the security of devices that are already on the market and bear the CE mark.

By placing the CE label on the product, the manufacturer declares that it meets the basic safety requirements that are in force in the EU. The producer may come from China, but in order to be able to sell their device on the EU market, they have to undergo assessment to prove the product’s conformity with EU regulations and place the CE label on the product. As regards technical safety, it is important for market inspection bodies to quickly identify possible drawbacks or shortcomings. The way in which these bodies are organized and funded is a new thing and a problem for the EU as a whole.

Office of Technical Inspection (UDT) aims to support the government, society and businesses in their activities aimed at ensuring the safe use of technical devices and equipment, and environmental protection. Under the law on technical inspection and related regulations, the UDT carries out its tasks by inspecting technical devices that may pose a threat to human life or health, property or the natural environment.

The UDT has 29 branches across Poland. The UDT’s Central Technical Inspection Laboratory carries out tests and provides expert evaluations.

Marek Walczak, president of the Office of Technical Inspection, graduate of the Faculty of Engineering Physics and Applied Mathematics at the Warsaw University of Technology. After graduation, he worked for the Polish Standardization Committee and Research and Development Center for Excavators and Hydraulic Equipment. He has held technical inspection jobs for 26 years now, moving up all rungs of the career ladder. He has been president of the UDT since April 2006. He is married, with three children.
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