Axtell, Inc. designs, manufactures, and installs large containers
designed to store highly active chemicals. These containers require strong, reliable
safety seals to prevent spills and leakage, precision temperature control units, and an
automated valve system to control inflow and outflow.
For several years Axtell only manufactured the containers. Its major
customers installed them without supervision from Axtell. However, recent automated design
innovations require intricate installation procedures. Mistakes can be very costly,
ranging from damaged machinery and interrupted workflow to serious injury to workers. So,
Axtell now sends engineers to each site to supervise installation.
As chief engineer of Axtell's Installation Division, Howard Hanson
manages the installation supervisors. He is proud of his division's record during his five
years on the job. There have been only two reported incidents of serious accidents
involving Axtell containers. Both were determined to have resulted from negligence on the
part of chemical companies rather than any flaws in the containers.
Axtell's good record is in no small way attributable to the work of
Howard's division. Although the supervisory work is tedious, Howard insists that his
engineers carefully supervise each phase of the installation. There are times when the
workload is so heavy that it is difficult for the engineers to meet installation
deadlines; and occasionally customers apply pressure on Axtell to be allowed to install
containers without Axtell supervision. But, Howard realizes that quality, and perhaps even
safety, may be compromised without proper supervision. Furthermore, he is concerned to
minimize Axtell's legal liabilities. So, he has a motto on his office wall: "Better
late than sorry!"
Normally only one Axtell engineer is sent to an installation site. But
because the installations require several complex procedures, Howard has the work of new
engineers double-checked by veteran engineers for the first month on the job. The veteran
supervisor's job is to coach and monitor the newcomer's supervision as they oversee the
installation together. Each container is given a dated inspection number that can be
traced to the engineer. Those that are double-checked are given two numbers, one traceable
to the new engineer, the other to the veteran engineer. Axtell's requirement that new
engineers have a one month training period was Howard's idea. Although he realized that it
was not required by law, Howard convinced Axtell management that having such a requirement
would enhance quality and safety.
Tom Banks was in the last week of his one month trial period. He had
been working with veteran engineer Charles Yost during the entire trial period. It was
clear to Charles from the very first week that Tom had a real knack for thorough,
efficient supervision. It seemed apparent to both of them by the end of the third week
that Tom was more than ready to "go it alone." But, they reminded themselves
that "rules are rules;" the training period is a full month. So they would have
to stick it out for the full trial period.
At the beginning of the final week Tom noticed that Charles seemed
somewhat lethargic and inattentive. When he asked Charles if he was all right, Charles
replied, "I'm just a little tired. I've been under a lot of pressure lately, and it's
been cutting into my sleep." Tom suggested that Charles take a couple of days of sick
leave to get rested. "We can ask Howard to assign someone else to me for these last
couple of days." Charles replied that he had exhausted his sick and vacation leave
time for the year and that he was too financially strapped to lose any pay.
"Besides," he said, "Howard doesn't have anyone available to replace me
this week, and this job can't wait. These guys are already champing at the bit." By
Friday Charles was too ill to concentrate on his work.
Tom suggested that Charles go home for the day. But Charles replied,
"I thought about staying home today, but I just can't afford it--and we have
to get the job done this week anyway. I'll get some rest this weekend, and I'll be fine
next week. We can get through today all right. Look, next week you're on your own anyway.
I've been checking your work for three weeks. You're the best supervisor I've ever seen
around here. Don't worry, you can handle it. Give 'em a good look and I'll just put my tag
What should Tom do?