The metal fabricating industry is made up of highly skilled, hard-working individuals who are passionate about their work and proud of what they create. But every now and then, along comes a slacker who does a half-backside job and creates all kinds of problems. Such is the case with the Northrop Grumman welding inspector who falsified some inspections on eight U.S. submarines and an aircraft carrier. "Welding Wire" readers had plenty to say about this incident and how it came to light.
The June and July "Welding Wire" e-newsletters discussed this issue and its ramifications. As a result of the negligent inspector's behavior—which was reported by a fellow inspector—many welds had to be reinspected. The offending inspector was fired; welds are being scrutinized more closely; and some welders are receiving additional training. It's a migraine for all concerned. But just think of the possible consequences, if the falsely passed welds had failed on any of the vessels during use.
Responding to the June newsletter, a reader wrote, "Evidently, Ms. Bell is unaware of what usually happens to a 'whistleblower' in most organizations." Well, dear reader, I've seen the movies ("Silkwood," "The Insider," "Erin Brockovich"), watched Jeffrey Wigand's interview on "60 Minutes," and heard firsthand accounts from not-as-high-profile workers who have suffered for bringing misconduct to management's attention. It isn't pretty and sometimes is downright dangerous. However, in some instances, such as the Northrop incident, how can you not blow the whistle?
The July newsletter included an update on the Northrop situation and the reader"s whistleblower comment. It also asked readers to share their thoughts about this particular situation and whistleblowing in general. Here are some responses :
From a welder in Washington State: "As a welding inspector and instructor, I agree with the conscientious welding inspector (whistleblower)! FYI, all http://www.aws.org/w/a/AWS-certified welding inspectors sign an oath of good conscience; he not only did the right thing but the only thing he could do according to his oath."
A senior welding engineer from California said, "There is right and wrong. If the weld does not meet the code requirements, it is repaired, period. There is absolutely no excuse for an inspector to not know the code acceptance requirements for welds and how to interpret them. This is not a good-old-boy inspection to the inspector's own criteria. More people in America need to take responsibility and not assume someone else will do it, I applaud this conscientious person.
"All previous welding programs I managed, nuclear and MIL-Q quality, the fabricators (welders and fitters) were fully trained on their weld acceptance criteria. There were weld models provided for discussion, training, and interpretation for each weld discontinuity.
"These methods require an investment in training of welders and inspectors before the project starts, which has shown to deliver on time with little or no rework."
A welding shop owner wrote: "Anything that directly affects the integrity of a structure and/or the safety of one or a hundred lives must be reported immediately upon discovery and addressed before there is any more forward movement on the area in question! To continue without rectifying the problem will generally compound the damage down the road. Whether it requires total disassembly and rebuilding or a minor adjustment, there will be a consequence to the end user sooner or later, and depending on the severity, can at the very least mean a penalty or the end of a lucrative contract—while at the other end of the scale, damages involving death(s) will have much longer and farther ranging results, i.e.,: lawsuits, loss of one's business/livelihood prison time, etc., not to mention the damage at the personal and mental level for the individuals directly responsible for the incident whether knowingly or not."
A welding instructor wrote: "The so-called whistle blower did the right thing. Regardless of the final product when you are being paid to do a job you are expected to do it correctly. In this case, welders, who are probably making a decent wage at union scale, and the inspector, whose job it is to catch shoddy work, were all negligent.
"Whatever happened to pride in workmanship and honesty? Is the dollar worth more than peoples" lives? Why did this inspector pass these inferior welds?
"I have been a welder/fabricator for almost 40 years and a welding instructor for 29 years. I, like the majority of welders/fabricators take pride in their work and do the job correctly, the first time. It doesn"t take any longer to do the job right than it does to do it wrong. If you can't do your job correctly, or don't want to do it correctly than you should be doing something else.
"This incident is even more disturbing when it involves the safety of the servicemen who are already putting their lives on the line in defense of our country."
A reader who works for a stainless steel tube provider wrote: "When a worker is being 100 percent honest and bringing wrong doings to the forefront, being tagged a whistleblower is a crime in itself. There should be no retaliation towards them, and the ones who do retaliate need to be punished as much if not more than the wrongdoers."
A welding inspector wrote: "I'd like to shake this inspector's hand. I am a tier level weld inspector working in the auto industry, and it is appalling to me what passes through the system under the guise that 'it'll be ok.' Or what they don't know, won't hurt them. All this, supposedly, to save a few bucks. And the cronies that look the other way wonder why we struggle."
A reader who works for an energy company said, "This whistleblower did the right thing! Without a doubt, this person is thinking straight by being more concerned about the safety of the ships than trying to protect a person, or persons, that are doing wrong. I'd like to shake this person's hand for standing up, and I'd be proud to say I knew him."
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