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I work in industrial automation, and as part of a project, we had to install a light barrier around a turn table to keep operators safe. Upon noticing that this light barrier was not sufficient (could put my whole hand through it, and touch the turning parts without detection, and the table did not stop moving), I showed my boss.

He said this was fine and that "I had to put my hand in a specific spot for it not to work so there is no issue". He then asked me how I felt about it, and I told him that if I were the operator, I would not be okay with working with this light barrier being the only thing protecting me from getting my hand hit by the turn table.

He then went on to berate me in front of my colleagues about being stubborn and impossible to work with, and that I really should check myself etc., because it's very unprofessional to not be open to criticism or differences in opinion.

I won't be personally liable for injuries caused to operators, but I still do not feel comfortable letting the machine be sold as is. I have filmed my hand going through the light barrier undetected and emailed it to my boss but he seems unswayed.

How can I continue to push for improvements when any difference of opinion with my boss is taken as being stubborn? Any tips for dealing with this type of situation in the future? I'm not particularly concerned with the specifics of this instance (safety laws etc.), mostly how to continue having constructive and professional interactions with this style of management.

Note: I am the only female in the company (of about 100 people so I'm pretty sure there's something fishy going on), and on a work study program. I fear I am not being taken seriously because of my status as a student, and I cannot quit because my contract here is part of getting my diploma.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Kilisi
    Jul 2 at 0:43
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I think you handled that well so far. You could be considered stubborn if you revisit some decision again and again, or if you refuse to do as told. With safety critical issues like the one you describe I would think that a little bit of "stubbornness" is best for you and your employer.

You have raised a concern to your boss, demonstrated it, and replied truthful when being asked about your thoughts. I would just accept the criticism from your boss as his opinion and move on. Of course it is integral that you document the safety issue to cover your ass in case of a lawsuit.

Personal note: I also got the same feedback from my boss in the past. I tried to counter that by changing my way of communication. Instead of "I think that is not possible"/"I think this is unsafe", I switched to questions: "What do we do in case XYZ?"/"Is the risk of XYZ tolerable?". That got a lot better reactions, and sometimes I learnt something new.

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    Oh the change of vocab from subjective opinions to monetarily risks is a good one! (Sad, but good!)
    – morbo
    Jun 30 at 8:43
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    100% agree. When I saw the title I assumed this was a standard workplace disagreement. A legitimate health and safety concern changes the picture entirely... Jun 30 at 11:22
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    +1 on the difference between language like "I think this is unsafe" => "Is the risk of XYZ tolerable?" it changes drastically how you come across in several ways. One of which is that the former CAN come across as being about you or complaining, the latter can come across as being outside of you and comes across as more objective.
    – McAden
    Jun 30 at 16:09
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    As an additional point, if the boss continues to not take the concern seriously, I would consider escalating this to your boss’s boss (your boss 2 levels up)
    – Boolean
    Jun 30 at 17:40
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    The risk based language is very good. It is impersonal and talks in a language that allows for different levels of risk. Engineering is a risk based discipline, so learning to deal with what is and isn't acceptable, with appropriate documentation is an extremely valuable learning.
    – throx
    Jun 30 at 22:50
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The only stubborn one here is your boss.

I work in industrial automation as well, and I can tell you that we put the safety of our users as the top priority. Being able to reach through a light curtain, and the workcell not entering a safe state, is a huge safety violation which would shut down the whole workcell until it is resolved.

Depending on the size of the company, they may even have a safety and compliance officer. If your boss won't listen, bring the issue to someone who will.

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  • The question is tagged as taking place in France, so whether a government agency could intervene depends on the state of workplace safety regulation in France.
    – Milo P
    Jun 30 at 17:03
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    Strictly speaking, whether it is a violation or not depends on the requirements to this barrier. It could be that it was meant to prevent "walk ins" but not protruding limbs. (This could be reasonable if the barrier was to be installed more than, say, 1 m from the turntable).
    – Zeus
    Jul 1 at 3:53
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    Operators put their hand through the barrier to load the table, then it turns to bring the parts into the machine. The barrier is about 5 cm from a dangerous area and is there to prevent turning when hands are still in this area.
    – E.Aigle
    Jul 1 at 7:02
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    We did "TURO" testing on all equipment at my old job. (Through, Under, (a)Round and Over) every single way into the harm-zone got its evaluation. Can you get through, how do you get through, how much degradation of the barrier would be needed to get through, etc etc... Jul 1 at 8:46
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I think this is a question on how to handle disagreements gracefully. Your question condenses likely quite some discussion, so I will conjecture a bit.

If you show something, and you are new, you think you know the right way, and you want people to follow the right way. You can be quite insistent and stubborn. The trick is in being insistent the right way.

There have been times when I pushed and pushed and got nowhere. Your boss likely has a deadline, or a limited budget (either for development, or the finished product, or both) and the changes you want risk that.

So the question is, how bad is the security flaw you discovered? If you have something like a chief security officer or something, talking with them might be the right step. Your immediate boss may not like that, but your higher management may be even thankful. When a boss has one set of motivations (budget, time) others may suffer (security). That's why there are different people with different responsibilities. The security person doesn't care about deadlines; that's not their job. Their job is to ensure the company doesn't get sued for shit that is preventable.

In direct communication, you should learn to disagree gracefully. Something like:

I don't see it your way, but if you give me a written order to continue as you want, I will do so.

This is still confrontational, but it covers your ass and ensures the other side realizes something is at stake. Most importantly, it offers a way forward the other site can take. If they give a written order that causes your company to get sued, he now has taken responsibility. Just be aware that in blatant cases that may not be enough to cover you. See for example Dieselgate, where programmers who programmed the cheating software got punished in court. (Rightfully so!) In most cases, you now have done your duty and if this gets acknowledged, you can move forward.

But sometimes, people reconsider when being confronted like that. They realize the issue is more severe than they thought at first, and then they just stop to push the issue.

I was once asked to do something I thought unlawful. I wanted a written statement from the company lawyer that it's ok to do so. They never even bothered to ask... Other times, they did ask, and I did get the lawyer statements.

The important part for appearances is to follow through when you get such a statement and stop complaining. Accept the outcome.

Note, this of course included things I didn't like to do, and rather did not. But in a sense of professionality, I raised my concerns, and they were heard. Some were addressed (it was clarified, yes, this is in accordance with law), but the actual task didn't change.

One important thing in business is resolving issues and moving forward. Learn the appropriate way and channels to raise them. You may want to ask older coworkers for guidance or help. Sometimes it helps when a more senior person raises your concern for you. I know, this shouldn't matter, but it often does.

All this assumes your workplace is a reasonable place where they juggle money, time and security requirements.

Some places just drop the security ball and require all sorts of unreasonable behaviour. There is a point of no return at such places, past that internal change gets impossible because bad habits are so ingrained. In that case, you should cover your ass as best as possible and find the fastest exit.

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    More senior colleagues were there with me when I spoke to the boss about the issue. We raised the concern together, and then I was singled out for "being stubborn" in agreeing with my colleagues. I think this answer gives my boss the benefit of the doubt that he may not be an asshole and is just concerned with deadlines, but I'm not sure he deserves as much.
    – E.Aigle
    Jun 30 at 9:28
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    yes, I generally give people benefit of the doubt unless proven otherwise. If you think there is additional information that would help us give a more specific answer, feel free to add it to your question. e.g.: How did your coworkers react after the boss singled you out?
    – Benjamin
    Jun 30 at 9:37
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    Well this is pretty usual for him, so I got support from them when he walked away, but everyone stayed quiet when he was around. He's the CEO's brother and the founder's son, so he's basically untouchable. He has screamed at me over tiny things on previous occasions. There seems to be a pattern of poor communication here, so that's why I asked a pretty broad question, to get tips for dealing with this kind of boss in general.
    – E.Aigle
    Jun 30 at 9:44
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    (+1) Some places just drop the securityball and require all sorts of unreasonable behaviour. This is an unfortunate truth, and CYA with fastest exit is sometimes the best you can do.
    – Galen
    Jun 30 at 15:38
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    @E.Aigle, not that I'm advocating this, but the "untouchable" relative might only appear that way, but in reality going to their upper-management/older relative can make a difference. You are likely to get some backlash from your manager doing this, and it's also not recommended to skip over a manager in the general hierarchy of managers, but sometimes it's necessary. When talking to your boss isn't working and a situation is critical, going around the "chain of command" is warranted, and that usually means specific steps that are too detailed for here and workplace specific. Jun 30 at 16:35
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You've got good answers, but now I'll try to play devil's advocate a bit and show how I'd handle such a situation (of which I had many, working in a similar industry).

Any half-serious automation system has design requirements. As a designer, you should know them or at least have access to them. When you discover something that you believe is a problem, the first thing you should do is to verify that it violates the requirements.

This is not always that trivial (in other fields, we have lawyers for such things), and you may need to requiest help from the company safety officer or just colleagues. This is a very professional and non-confrontational thing to ask: "I discovered such-and-such, and I'd like to check how it goes with the requirements to the system."

If you find a requirement that is clearly violated, then you can say to your boss exactly that. (Better in writing, as everyone advised). In this case the boss will have to confront not you but the founding document for the system. He might decide to brush it away, but this is a very different thing than brushing away a junior employee.

It may happen that the requirement is not well-defined and/or open to interpretation. Something like "the system shall provide safe operation of the equipment in all reasonable circumstances". Here it is even more important to get a second opinion from a more experienced colleague. Then you point out to the boss that you believe that there is a violation, and again, he will have to submit to a certain interpretation of the requirements, and be responsible.

Finally, it happens sometimes that there is a gap in the requirements, and they formally allow a dangerous situation to happen. As a responsible person, you bring it up to the management (again in writing), but then it is in their hands. A responsible company would communicate the problem to the customer and request clarification.

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(I'm wrote this presuming that you are US-based, but a comment pointed out that you're in France, so take it with a grain of salt, I don't know what product liability law is like in France. If someone is in a similar situation in the US or other highly litigious country, this still applies to them)

Point out to him, that since there's now a record trail (that can be found in discovery) of the safety issue being brought to his attention and ignored, when(not if) some idiot(there always is one) manages to get their arm ripped off by bypassing the barrier(or any other scenario where it may be argued that the light barrier is insufficient), Lvl99 tort-demons(i.e. lawyers) will eat the company alive with a monster award.

BCC your own personal email in case they somehow try to shift the blame on you when that happens. But don't push the issue further. You've done your due dilligence and it's not worth delaying your graduation.

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  • The question is tagged France, if you want to take that into account.
    – Anyon
    Jun 30 at 16:47
  • @Anyon, ah damn, missed that
    – Eugene
    Jun 30 at 16:58
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    "Point out to him, that since there's now a record trail (that can be found in discovery) of the safety issue being brought to his attention and ignored" - OP definitely shouldn't do that unless she wants to be fired. None of the bosses I've ever had would ever accept being threatened.
    – BigMadAndy
    Jun 30 at 20:06
  • @BigMadAndy but it's not threatening, it's the exact truth. A potentially serious safety issue was brought up and ignored. If something bad happens because of it, there could be serious legal consequences. France has strong worker protections. IANAL but if it is a serious safety issue, the OP has a strong chance of being covered under whistleblower protections: lexology.com/library/… . From the OP's description they would appear to fulfill the criteria. It's up the the OP to determine if it is serious enough to continue fighting
    – eps
    Jul 1 at 0:15
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    @eps: Whistleblower protections are a lovely idea in theory, but in practice it means you eventually get a bit more compensation when you sue them for firing you. At the end of the day if the boss doesn't want you there anymore, you don't have a job—and no court is going to (nor practically could) force people to work together if that's not what all parties want.
    – eggyal
    Jul 1 at 15:03
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Based on your explanation it sounds like you found a safety issue with the product and brought it to your bosses attention - these sound like reasonable steps and I think you did the right thing.

After this happened your boss asked you; how you felt about "it"? Language can be imprecise, so I would like to ask you:

What question did your boss INTEND to ask you?

It sounds like the question you answered was:

Imagine it was your job to operate this machine on a daily basis and given you know what you know now, do you think the safety mechanisms on this device are adequate?

Most likely the boss was actually asking you:

Based on my years of experience in this field, I have evaluated the safety issue you have highlighted and determined that it would be too costly to fix it, are you willing to accept my decision and continue doing your job?

Assuming that is the case, I would say your boss handled it badly since there is really only one viable answer to the question:

Yes, I will accept your decision and carry on.

Since you didn't give that answer you will be perceived as: "stubborn and impossible to work with".

The "trick" is to improve the question before answering it, for example:

Based on my years of experience in this field, I have evaluated the safety issue you have highlighted and determined that it would be too costly to fix it, are there any facts that I am not aware of, or can you think of a cheap (or ideally free) way to correct the issue, failing that are you willing to accept my decision and continue doing your job?

In answering that question start by addressing the concern:

I understand that there is a trade off between safety and cost and that we have to draw the line somewhere, we may be able to improve things without significantly increasing the cost by doing X, Y or Z. However I understand that at the end of the day it's your call...

If you still can't live with the outcome and there isn't an immediate safety threat (i.e. the operator isn't going to start using the machine immediately) then I would suggest taking some time to evaluate what your best course of action is, for example this might be:

  • Having a conversation with the operator and let them raise the concern.
  • Talk to a union rep.
  • If there is a safety officer (someone who's job is safety) - talk to them.
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Are you an engineer?

I ask because engineers have a professional responsibility to keep "the public" safe. That obligation is above whatever responsibilities they may have to their employer or customer. As far as I know, engineering is the only profession with this obligation.

If you are an engineer, you should escalate the issue. Not stubbornly, but until it is either fixed or someone convinces you that you are wrong.

If you aren't an engineer, but you work with one (pretty common in industrial automation), engage him/her in the discussions.

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  • I am not an engineer, I am a master's student. I don't know everyone involved in the project, so I just showed the issue to the person I found most likely to know what to do about it or most likely to know who to tell about it.
    – E.Aigle
    Jul 5 at 5:51
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Every answer seems to be missing a crucial point that the OP pointed out.

The OP is a student doing a internship which means they have no experience in engineering, design, or regulations.

Your boss was using this as a learning opportunity to give you hands on experience but you decided to undermine him in front of everyone.

The company has 100 engineers, designers, and lawyers and you think an intern is going to solve a problem they could not. Like you said, you're not responsible for any liabilities because your there to learn. I think you need to get some perspective of your situation.

Ironically, since I'm going against the grain here with my answer by not demonizing the company, I suspect certain people not open to differences in opinion will try to bury me.

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    The problem is focused in the first paragraph: I work in industrial automation, …*we had to install a light barrier around a turntable to keep operators safe. Upon noticing that this light barrier was not sufficientI *showed my boss. This isn't about verbal disagreement; undermining another's role, or a subordinate refusing to follow regulations/company policies. The person demonstrated that the light barrier was unsafe. A good manager explains why this feature may be irrelevant, they do not accuse another adult of being stubborn because they raise legitimate concerns.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jul 3 at 15:57
  • @Mari-LouA This person demonstrated it was unsafe according to their own interpretation, not according to any policy or regulation that they can point out. This could be due to their own inexperience. It's like saying you can burn your hand on a stove so it's unsafe, therefore all stoves must be induction stoves to prevent that. This is a lack of understanding.
    – Jack
    Jul 9 at 4:55

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