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Barely Keeping It Together

, , , , , | Working | May 9, 2022

I work on the manufacturing of an experimental biotech product. When we manufacture our product, we have to maintain careful batch records, which are a series of handwritten documents attesting to the quality of the product. The documents are, for good reason, very carefully controlled.

The particular batch of records I’m in charge of maintaining and submitting is a stack of about fifty sheets of paper by the time we’re done. For years, I’ve been submitting them to Quality Control with a paper clip or binder clip holding them together. This seems to work fine, and no one has ever suggested I do otherwise.

Then, some of the documents are lost. Now, pretty much everyone at the company knows how they were lost: our terrible head of Quality likes to bring documents home, where she promptly loses them. This happens over and over, and nothing happens, because she’s BFFs with the head of manufacturing. In fact, every time documents go missing, the question is not where they could possibly be; the question is where they could possibly be other than the head of Quality’s dining room.

So, when part of my batch records go missing — batch records that I submitted months ago — the hammer falls on my group and how we must have lost the documents.

Head Of Manufacturing: “I don’t understand. Where are the batch records now?”

Me: “Well, I turned them in to Quality on [date], and—”

Head Of Manufacturing: “You’re blaming Quality? You’re blaming Quality for your mistake? I just can’t believe you wouldn’t take responsibility for your own actions.”

Me: “I’m not saying it’s Quality’s fault. I’m just saying I turned them in—”

Head Of Manufacturing: “And these batch records. Were they stapled together?”

Me: “Uh, no? We never do that. It’s, like, fifty sheets of paper. I don’t even think we have a stapler at the company that could do that.”

Head Of Manufacturing: “So, these were lost because you never bothered to staple them.”

Me: “That’s not really—”

Head Of Manufacturing: “From now on, staple the batch records! Staple them! How hard is it to do that?”

Me: “Fine. We’ll staple them from now on.”

I figure this is over. Not even close. She emails my boss and tells him that, from now on, we have to staple the batch records. She tells him to make sure the entire team understands this.

Okay, we get it. We find a special stapler in a closet somewhere that can handle fifty sheets — not without jamming every stupid time, but still. My boss emails our entire team, six people, to let us know that, from now on, we staple.

Not good enough! The Head of Manufacturing finds my boss in his office.

Head Of Manufacturing: “You sent an email telling your team to staple the batch records.”

My Boss: “Yes.”

Head Of Manufacturing: “That isn’t enough! We can’t afford to lose these batch records! This is too important!”

My Boss: “So, what do you want me to do?”

Head of Manufacturing: “I want you to look your entire team in the eye and tell them to use the stapler. I want you to have a training session.”

My Boss: “A training session… on… the use of a stapler.”

Head Of Manufacturing: “Yes! And I want the training session documented, with signatures!”

And that’s how my team — all of us with advanced degrees in molecular biology or biomedical engineering — ends up having to have formal training on how to operate a stapler.

The kicker: the first time I turn in batch records after the training session, I staple them and hand them into our Document Control person. The next day, she pulls me aside.

Document Control Person: “Hey, could you not staple these batch records? I noticed you started doing that, and it’s a real pain because the first thing I need to do to scan them is remove that staple — and it’s really hard to take off.”

Apologetically, I told her the story of the stapler training, and how, despite it making her job harder, I would be using that stapler from now on. From then on, every time, I’d staple the batch records, hand them to her, and she would begin the process of trying to pry out the staple.

I am so glad I no longer work there.

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