A certain company that I worked for brought opprobrium upon itself when management refused to repair a faulty design to a certain medical equipment used in hospital operating rooms. A few patients had passed due to the faulty equipment and the hospitals wanted answers.
As a consultant, I was called in to determine the root cause of these equipment’s high failure rate. Upon analysis of the design, I determined the cause of failure and informed management that the only solution they had was a complete redesign of the circuit board. The induced noise by poor circuit board layout was causing the microprocessor to read wrongful instructions and cause the system to overdose the patients. Management refused my recommendation due to either political pressure or investor profitability margins.
As a result, it was determined that the units in production would be tested at a higher tolerance level and those that passed would be shipped to customers. I wrote an objection stating that the longanimity of the hospitals or the public would not last long. These units were not reliable enough to warrant risking another life. I once again explained in laymen terms why these units were not guaranteed to work. However, my follow-up letter was received with insouciance and the testing and shipping of the units proceeded as planned by upper management.
Needless to say, a hospital had another overdose and the unit was returned to the manufacture. A decree was issued that production be stopped and all units recalled. By then it was too late. Families had lost loved ones and the company had lost investor confidence. Within a short time the company was bought out and only a few products were continued to be manufactured.
This is just one example of why it is imperative that we apply good ethical behavioral norms to anything that we do. Granted, some may not be as severe as the death of loved ones but, some could lead to deaths or loss of self-confidence indirectly.
Three people that failed to act on my recommendations were my direct supervisor, the vice-president of marketing and fellow engineers. I know that my supervisor and that the vice-president of marketing read my report. My supervisor read the report in front of me and told me he would pass it on. I know that the vice-president read it because he came to talk to me and gathered the other engineers to seek advice. That is when it was determined that more stringent testing was to be performed and they would ship the passing units. Thirdly, my fellow engineers knew the risks yet they conceded to the suggestions of the vice-president. I do not know how to put it nicely, but they were cowards. What if it was their family members that had to use the devices?
Additionally, it would have been helpful if my supervisor supported me instead of just passing on my analysis document. Unfortunately, the vice-president’s failure to think of the risks to families and think only of the possible profits to be gained and the satisfaction of the investors, plus the lack of support from my supervisor and cowardice of the employees brought opprobrium to the company.
I do not think I could have done anything differently to produce a positive outcome. If I would have talked to everyone, there would be no guarantee that they would listen. Placing everything in writing gives the reader time to read, re-read, and mentally digest what is written. Additionally, writing it out served two purposes. The first being that it gave me the opportunity to thoroughly think through how to explain everything without making the reader feel ignorant or being blamed. Secondly, it would serve as proof of what I found and what I suggested. It would clear me of any future repercussions.
The fact that the vice-president told manufacturing that retesting (repeating work) of the product line be performed was a waste of time and resources. It created serious negative consequences by the deaths of patients and the ultimate demise of the company