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Re: It's What You Don't Know That Hurts You...

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Bill,

Very sorry to hear about the situation you are in.  I think we can all
feel for you because at some point it has been us, or we have nightmares
thinking about the day it will be us.

I don't think there are any magic bullets regarding QA.  Sometimes when
I have spotted mistakes done by my people, I get the urge to let them go
and just do the work myself.  Then I catch a mistake I did.  Then what. 
Let myself go.  I have thought of it.  I guess that is not the solution
either.

I don't think this kind of problem is unique to our idustry either.  I
am sure that an attorney does not "back check" every legal docket a
junior level attorney researched for him even though important
information may have been missed by the junior attorney.  I am sure that
a doctor does not stand over the nurses shoulder to make sure that the
nurse picked out the correct drug they prescribed.  It is just the
nature of supervision.  We can't be there every step of the way to make
sure no mistakes are made.  Mistakes will be made.  In our industry.  In
every industry.  Some small.  Some big.  It is just unfortunate when it
happens to us.

My big thing with my people is I tell them only put down on paper stuff
you are sure about.  If you have doubts, then ask.  If you don't ask,
and you put the info on the calc paper and on the drawings I have to
assume you are sure and that it is correct.  Do not expect me to catch
your mistakes.  I can't review something for half an hour that it took
you 10 hours to do and be expected to catch any mistake you may have
made.  Even with this philosophy, it sounds like the problem that
occurred in your situation would still have occurred.  No matter what
steps we take to try to prevent this from happening, we are human, and
it will happen.

I remember a long time ago I goofed something up.  I went to my
principal feeling really bad and I told him I had a big problem.  He
very calmly told me nothing is a big problem until it is built.  Nothing
is a big problem until someone is injured.  I think you can be thankful
the problem was caught at this stage.

I will now get a little spiritual.  For those of you turned off, tune
out.  There are many things that I don't understand.  Why did God allow
something really bad to happen to me; why did God allow a tragedy to
occur; why did God make trees so beautiful that I so much enjoy looking
at; why did God make rivers so beautiful that I so much enjoy bathing
in; why did God make the planets round.  For now, all I can do is hang
in there.  I know that some day, I will understand the why to a lot of
things.

Hang in there, and good luck.

Jeff Coronado, S.E.
West Covina, CA

Bill Polhemus wrote:
> 
> I'm just have to gripe a little bit here.
> 
> I was informed by a colleague familiar with the situation that a bridge that had
> been designed under my supervision a few years back, which is being constructed
> now, has had some problems in construction.
> 
> At the time of its design, I had a group of ten engineers working under my
> supervision at a consulting firm. Two of the "engineers" were recent graduates,
> but the rest either had or would soon have their P.E. licenses. We had this
> bridge project, which consisted of six bridges of various types, spans and
> configurations, part of a freeway expansion project. I divided my group into
> task forces with a P.E. as "project engineer" over each, and a senior P.E. as
> "quality assurance" (i.e. he was to check all design calculations).
> 
> As it turns out, one of the bridges under a particular "project engineer" has
> had problems almost from the start, but the problems were rather minor in scope.
> However, this time, the problem is great.
> 
> It seems that in designing the bridge to use prestressed concrete "U-Beams"
> (that is, they are a "U" shaped section), the design team had dithered about how
> many beams to use in each two lane span. They apparently settled on three beams
> per span. But unfortunately, somehow they had placed on the drawings, the
> prestressing information that was adequate if they had used FOUR beams. In other
> words, the prestressed concrete beams were underreinforced for the loading!
> 
> Somehow, this got through not ONLY the design, but even the checking phase. The
> calculations exist that show the original project engineer's and the checker's
> initials. And of course, in the end I sealed the drawings.
> 
> Now, it looks like the contractor is going to backcharge the client about $4
> million for the prestressed beams that are now, in a word, useless. They are in
> addition going to have to delay the project because they will have to have new
> beams made.
> 
> I have not been contacted officially on this, and don't know that I will, but I
> am sure that this will be remembered by many in our area should the time come
> that I am in the running to get some of this kind of design work.
> 
> It is frustrating to me because of the way that work is done in consulting firms
> like this, where you are SUPERVISING people who are doing the work, but the
> scope of the projects makes it difficult to be involved in every aspect of the
> design. I have found from time to time, in fact most recently just a few months
> ago, that if I DO get involved in detailed checking of others' work that is
> being done under my seal, I am very often disappointed.
> 
> This, however, is the first time that a catastrophe of this magnitude has
> occurred, and I am sick about it! I pride myself on my diligence. We are all
> human, and prone to make mistakes, but the nature of the negligence on this
> project astounds me! I don't understand why others don't worry as I do about
> their work.
> 
> I am now in private practice, and thankful that from this time forth nothing is
> going out under my name that I have not PERSONALLY been responsible for doing. I
> will never again trust the "QA" portion of the work to anyone else when
> something is being done under my supervision. I only hope that this particular
> chicken doesn't come home to roost directly over my head, but if it does I am
> resigned to take responsibility for it. H*ll, I guess I could lose my license
> over something like this. Not a good thing.
> 
> Just a cautionary note to you all. Please be careful what is being done under
> your supervision.
> 
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