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Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Inspection

By Trudi Kappel

For three years, I had the good fortune to work at IBM’s renowned research laboratory. It was an opportunity to participate in leading edge research with scientists who were recognized leaders in their fields.

One of my assignments was the administration of a laboratory. I made sure that all services and equipment were working properly and arrange repairs when needed. Periodically there would be a safety audit. I had to remedy any problems the inspectors found.

The outgoing administrator gave me some advice as he turned over responsibility. On the desk near the door was a lamp with a two pronged plug. This was a safety violation. All electric equipment was required to have three pronged plugs. The lamp was not plugged in.

“Don’t ever discard that.” he cautioned. “It will save you much grief.”

I did not understand but I left the lamp next to the door. Unplugged.

Life in a research lab can be chaotic. Not all scientists are mad but most are impulsive. An idea comes into their head, they race to the lab to try it out. In the excitement of the moment, safety regulations are forgotten.

I tried to keep my lab in safety conformance but undoubtedly on most days there were lapses. However, we never had a fire and nobody ever landed in the hospital.

At my first safety review, the committee entered the lab. They noted the two pronged plug on the lamp, wrote it up and departed without venturing further into the lab.

AH HA. Now I understood. The inspectors had found and noted a deficiency. They had done their job! I promised to have it repaired but I never did. Different inspectors noted that plug at each of the semiannual inspections while I worked there and none of them never looked for or found any other issues.

When I moved on, I bequeathed that precious lamp to my successor with advice.

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Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


A warning to all of us who have trusted that audits--especially financial audits--were/are a safeguard, and that auditors need no one to inspect their work.

One Forest Service scientist I worked with claimed he always put a blatant error near the start of every manuscript before it went to our editors. He believed the editor would correct the goof and then tread lightly on the remainder of his deathless prose.

Rumor had it that on one occasion the editor missed the gaffe and the author forgot to take it out before submission to a journal. The error lived forever in the scientific literature.

The paper work is always paramount! Never mind the reality!

Great story! Sometimes when a person is evaluated, they gloss over the positive comments and agonize over the negative. I would remind them that the evaluators have a job to do; they need to find something to criticize. Your administrator’s solution helped them and you!

I ran into the same issue in our business when OSHA came to inspect. We always made sure something obvious was there. Fortunately, we had an old-timer who was more thorough and I was conscientious or the whole process would have been a waste. Sometimes people get lucky and folks look beyond the obvious. Great story.

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