Another Blown Whistle, Another Blown Warning

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The Boston Globe reports today that a safety officer assigned to the Big Dig project in downtown Boston prophesied in a 1999 memo that ceiling tiles in the underground highway tunnel were likely to become loose, and could injure or kill someone if they fell.

A woman was killed two weeks ago when a ceiling tile in that tunnel came loose and hit the car she was riding in.

If the safety inspector's warning had been heeded, the Globe writes, it may have prevented the recent tragedy. "John J. Keaveney -- in a starkly-worded two-page memo sent in 1999 to Robert Coutts, senior project manager for Modern Continental [Keaveney's employer and a contractor on the project] -- wrote that he could not 'comprehend how this structure can withhold the test of time." the Globe reports.

"Keaveney added: 'Should any innocent State Worker or member of the Public be seriously injured or even worse killed as a result, I feel that this would be something that would reflect Mentally and Emotionally upon me, and all who are trying to construct a quality Project."

Keaveney's sad story calls to mind an article that staff writer Darren Dahl wrote in the March issue, which talked about the growing popularity of whistleblower software.

"An industry has sprung up to make it easy for employees to alert their bosses to trouble, and vendors report that clients include businesses of all sizes," Dahl wrote. "One company with just nine workers recently signed up with EthicsPoint, a vendor that sets up toll-free 24-hour call centers and websites. Systems vary in price, but most start at about $12,000 per year, plus a sign-up fee."

The article continues: "To the surprise of many people in the industry, sales of whistle-blowing systems to private companies, which are not covered by Sarbanes-Oxley, are also on the rise. By using their employees as an early-warning system, employers seek to head off problems before they spiral out of control."

If Keaveney's seven-year-old memo is authentic, as it appears to be, then Modern Continental provides another object lesson as to why companies should embrace whistleblowers rather than fearing them.

UPDATE: There are now some questions surfacing about how Keaveney sent the memo to the Globe, and his former employer contends that the memo is a fake. Here's the link.

Last updated: Jul 26, 2006




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