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Malicious Compliance.

I was thinking about a place where I used to work where there was a big problem with malicious compliance.

It was an issue in a couple departments where assembly work was being done and was a source of friction with a couple of coworkers there but where it was worrisome was in the fabrication shop where I was one of three welders making aluminum pressure vessels.

There was a constant pressure to reduce lead times on these “tanks” and I was keen to do my part but where I kept butting heads with my fellow welders were with two things:  Cold lap(incomplete fusion) and stop craters the robots left on the circumferential welds holding the tank ends on.  Here is where we differed:

They argued that since the cold lap and stop craters didn’t leak in the subsequent proof test, taking the time to fill those craters and deal with the cold lap were a waste of time.

I argued that cold lap, even if partial, wouldn’t leak but would provide a stress riser and potential failure point in the future.  I also didn’t want to leave the stop craters; they provide another stress riser. One of the first lessons in welding aluminum is that cracks propagate from stop craters, sometimes before the weld is even cooled, and they must be filled; my colleagues’ refusal to deal with it to save a minute of rework on each tank left me flabbergasted.

There was a slow-down and I was laid off from that job and wondered if my butting heads with my fellow welders over this quality and safety issue was a factor in my being chosen as the one who had to go.  A while later a little birdie told me that one of the tanks had a catastrophic weld failure and the company recalled a bunch of the tanks.  I have a pretty good idea why it failed and felt somewhat smug about it.  The smugness was somewhat tempered by the fact a worker was injured when the tank failed.



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