Pencil-Whipping can Kill

What is it? Pencil-whipping is when you complete a form, record, or document without having performed the implied work or without supporting data or evidence.

Here are some common examples in NH3 refrigeration:

  • Completing “word orders” without conducting the work
  • “Signing off” on SOP reviews or PHA revalidations without actually reviewing or revalidating the documents.
  • Certifying training – or signing training attendance forms – without the training actually occurring.

Why take it seriously? There are several reasons, but here are some obvious ones:

  • You can be prosecuted for false statements resulting in fines and/or jail time.
  • There is significant legal liability if the action leads to an incident.
  • You can be fired for false statements
  • There can be significant safety repercussions to documenting work that wasn’t done.

I want to briefly focus on the last one – what can happen when you document that work was done when it actually wasn’t. If you are being assigned a task, we have to assume that the performance of that task is important to the system as a whole.

Imagine your job was to inspect some equipment that was prone to long-term wear – equipment that was relied upon for normal function. Now imagine that you didn’t conduct those inspections leading the users of that equipment to believe it was in proper working order. They are relying for their safety on YOUR lie!

Here’s what that can lead to:

capture1And here’s what can happen when people investigate the incident:

Thursday morning, the General Manager and CEO of the Board Safety Commission released a statement regarding the firings: “…I want the Board, our employees and our customers to know that this review revealed a disturbing level of indifference, lack of accountability, and flagrant misconduct in a portion of Metro’s track department which is completely intolerable. Further, it is reprehensible that any supervisor or mid-level manager would tolerate or encourage this behavior, or seek to retaliate against those who objected. It is also entirely unacceptable to me that any employee went along with this activity, rather than exercise a safety challenge, or any of the multiple avenues available to protect themselves, their coworkers, and the riding public.

Since the derailment occurred, we have either taken action or are in the process of taking disciplinary actions involving 28 individuals. This represents nearly half of the track inspection department and includes BOTH management and frontline track employees.

Six employees have been terminated, including 4 track inspectors and 2 supervisors

Six more track inspectors are pending termination or unpaid suspension; and 10 more are pending possible discipline pending the outcome of the administrative process

Another supervisor termination is underway; and two more supervisors are pending the outcome of the administrative process

One Superintendent was demoted to Supervisor

One Assistant General Superintendent was demoted to Superintendent

One assistant superintendent separated from Metro before the review concluded

In closing: Pencil-Whipping is immoral, illegal and just plain wrong. Don’t do it.


p.s. If you want to see how some instances of pencil-whipping are caused by overload, check out this video from Seth Wehner.

About Brian Chapin

PSM / RMP Compliance Consultant
This entry was posted in Compliance, Culture, General Information, Incidents, Inspections, Mechanical Integrity, Operator Training, System Optimization and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.