Explosives industry- a world all of its ownLenDüsseldorf, Germany - WirSindDu

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Explosives industry- a world all of its own

In the late 1990s, as I was given the opportunity

to write my diploma thesis in the explosives industry, my anticipation was great.
Hadn’t I already strained my parents’ supervisory duties during my youth in order to indulge my urge to explore with my own pyrotechnic mixtures?

Scientific curiosity and joy of the fiery effect

were my motivation at the time; fortunately, my guardian angel did a good job. While other children waited full of anticipation for Christmas Eve, I could hardly wait for December 28: the first day on which New Year’s Eve fireworks could be legally sold. At some point, homemade rockets, Bengal lights, etc. followed. While other teenagers read Bravo, I was fascinated by chemistry books, old recipes, rocket engines… In high school, I took the advanced chemistry course, where I met like-minded people. Our extracurricular experiments culminated in blowing up a traffic sign, which caused us a lot of trouble and almost got us expelled from school. In order not to jeopardize our high school diploma, we curbed our scientific curiosity and stopped the experiments for the time being.

And now, directly after my studies,

I was officially allowed to work, academically and legally in this profession. After successfully completing my diploma thesis, I was even offered a permanent position by the leading German company in this sector at the time, which was founded by the great Alfred Nobel. On top of that, research and development, including participation in the rather exclusive trainee program.  So was I fortunate enough to turn my hobby into a career? Full of devotion, I walked through the laboratories, thrilled by the highly explosive chemicals and actually felt a bit like Alfred Nobel shortly before the invention of dynamite.

An explosives plant exudes a deceptive idyll.

Small production facilities and warehouses surrounded by protective walls and old trees.  Large distances between all buildings, embedded in idyllic heath landscape. Workers and explosives carriers moved slowly along the paths, any hustle and bustle was forbidden.  This idyll was part of an imperative safety concept, owed to the handling of potentially lethal substances.

I remember my first encounter with our then laboratory manager.

His right hand was a scary black prosthesis, the result of a detonation of 10 g of explosives triggered by electrostatics. Soon I experienced the first accidents among our industrial employees, a chemical worker suffered burns after a detonation, again blown off fingers after a blast caused by electrostatics.  My discomfort increased, and wearing conductive shoes and constantly measuring my electrical resistance, did nothing to change that. For the first time, I felt discomfort, even fear, when handling explosive materials.

While some companies use lengthy selection processes

to choose their new industrial employees, the potential employees of the explosives plant were shown the detonation of 20 g of a substance that was produced in quantities of over 1000 kg per shift. The impressive detonation reduced the field of applicants considerably, and those who were unimpressed usually received an employment contract.

At the beginning of my employment, I worked mainly on explosives

for oil production, on components for pyrotechnic seat belt tensioners and airbags. However, as part of a radical restructuring of the Group, including a transfer of operations, I was assigned to the defense technology department. Explosive substances could delight the eye in fireworks, save lives in airbags, extract raw materials in mining and kill in defense technology. This last aspect gave me a lot more stomach ache than the immediate danger posed by handling explosive substances. Here, my gut feeling gradually became unbearable and finally sealed my move to a new field of activity at the German Aerospace Center after about 3.5 years.

So how can it be, that

a supposed dream job gradually turns into a nightmare? I think that despite all the enthusiasm for a subject, despite an impetuous spirit of research, one must never ignore one’s inner compass of values. Therefore, I have realized that even in professional issues, in spite of all professionalism and rationality, I should never act contrary to my gut feeling.

And my joy for pyrotechnics?

I haven’t lost it. With an appropriate permit, I can now legally pursue this hobby and delight many spectators with my fireworks on New Year’s Eve. Without any remorse.

So, should you make your hobby your profession? Not necessarily, because the ease of the hobby can be lost quite quickly in the professional environment….

Len

Düsseldorf, Germany

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