Web Teaser: Cutting Corners

Cutting corners means choosing a quicker and easier route, by paying little or no attention to rules. Typically, the motivation for cutting corners is to save time, and sometimes – since time is money – to save money. The consequences, however, may be severe.


cutting corners 1 Choose one or two of the short texts below where people in different occupations talk about cutting corners in their trade. Then write short answers to the questions following each text.



Joseph Smith – Carpenter
Programme for Building and Construction

A colleague of mine who runs a small contracting firm once got into more trouble than he’d foreseen. He was to build an extension to a house. Contract and specifications were okay. But then, for some odd cutting corners 2 reason, he changed the dimensioning of the exterior walls, so that he could cut down on material thickness. Also, it meant less insulation. When the project was finished, the house owner felt suspicious about the thickness of the walls, checked the project specifications, and then asked the constructor why some had been changed. When he did not receive a satisfactory explanation, the house owner demanded compensation. The constructor reluctantly offered a sum of money which the owner considered ridiculous, so the case went to court. There, the constructor lost on all counts, and the settlement turned out almost ten times bigger than the compensation he’d offered.
1. In what way did the constructor try to save money?
2. How did the constructor and the house owner first try to settle their disagreement?
3. How was the disagreement finally settled?

Linda Platt – Hairdresser
Programme for Design, Arts and Crafts

I’'d only just started working as a hairdresser in a fairly reputable salon. One day there was this rather posh-looking lady who wanted her hair dyed. Now, my immediate thought was that the dye she requested was slightly daring for a woman her age. But the customer’s always right, they say, so we went ahead with the hair treatment. The crucial error was of course that I didn’t read the hair dye product description, which warned against using it on frail or already chemically treated hair. And while the chemicals were doing what they’re supposed to do, I cutting corners 3 attended to another client – we were busy as usual – just a tad longer than I should have. The result was, well, not quite what the fine lady had expected. She was hysterical, as the dye made her look pale as a corpse. We offered her a few free hairdos as compensation, which she accepted, but then – would you believe it – she went to the local newspaper!
1. What was the worst mistake that hairdresser Linda made?
2. Was there anything else she could have done before starting the treatment?
3. What do you think happened to the hair salon’s reputation?

Stewart Phillips – Installation electrician
Programme for Electricity and Electronics

I got furious with a colleague the other day because I was really close to suffering a major injury. It so happened that I was going to install the water heater in a bungalow just outside town. This colleague of mine had been there the day before and done the wiring. What he had failed – or neglected – to do was update the circuit inventory after regrouping the circuits. This meant that when I disconnected the breaker according to the list, the circuit I was going to work on was very much live. Of course, as an electrician you’re not supposed to go fiddling with wires without first crosschecking with a voltage tester, but then again it’s easy to simply trust a certified colleague to have done his part of the job. Anyway, I tested the circuit, found it live, then located the right circuit and disconnected it – and corrected the inventory of course. Back at the firm I hurled my rage at my colleague. He could’ve killed me!
1. What had Stewart’s colleague failed to do that put Stewart at risk?
2. How did Stewart avoid suffering an injury?
3. What might have happened if he hadn’t taken his precautions?

Patty Dickinson – Social care worker
Programme for Healthcare, Childhood and Youth Development

I work at a lower secondary school, as part of the pedagogical-psychological service (PPT). In this profession, discretion is a crucial element. We are bound by professional secrecy, which is sometimes felt as a hindrance. Our main concern is the welfare of the pupils, but even though we may be a hundred per cent certain that the real problem lies with the pupils’ parents, we are bound by secrecy to inform the parents in such cases where we feel the child care authorities should take action. It is only in cases where it’s evident there’s sexual abuse that we can ignore the parent step. Needless to say, there have been situations where social care workers have gone straight to the authorities, only to be met with a reprimand – or in the worst cases, imprisonment, if the word has come out. It’s a sad thing; you really desperately want to help those young people.
1. What element of professional secrecy is involved here?
2. In which cases can one legitimately evade the parent-information rule?
3. What may be the consequence if professional secrecy is breached?

Chris Perry – Mechanic
Programme for Technical and Industrial Production

cutting corners 4 Environmental concerns have become increasingly important in the field of mechanics over the past few years. Often, these concerns are reflected in official documents such as regulations. The reason is, of course, that for instance chemicals used in mechanics are extremely toxic and cause pollution if they aren’t properly disposed of. Take waste oil for example. In garages and workshops, waste oil can effectively be deposited in containers or underground tanks. But doing maintenance on machinery or vehicles outside the garage – on-site – takes a lot more effort. Sadly, the temptation to simply dump the waste oil right there and then sometimes seems too strong for many people: “out of sight – out of mind” as it were. But clearly, one shouldn’t. One mustn’t. It’s environment crime. And if you’re caught, there’s a hefty fine to pay – at the least.
1. Why and how must toxic material be disposed of securely?
2. What do you think is meant by the expression “out of sight – out of mind”?
3. What might happen if you’re caught dumping waste oil into the environment?

Debby Potter – Manager, local TV station
Programme for Media and Communication

This story dates back to the very beginning of my career as a runner of a local TV station. Everything was hectic and my two colleagues and I constantly found ourselves working overtime to meet deadlines and facing all sorts of technical problems. As a result, we weren’t always too critical about following every single rule to the letter, and most of the times we got away with it. But on this one occasion, we received a very angry letter from a music manager who’d found out we’d used some artist’s music as soundtrack without seeking permission. The letter literally shouted “Copyright violation!” and threatened to take us to court, in which case the outcome most likely would have meant financial ruin for our little company. Luckily, we got out of this tough spot after explaining to the manager that we were novices broadcasting on a very small scale. There’s some leniency in the world after all!
1. What forced the small TV station sometimes to bend rules?
2. On what grounds did the manager threaten to take the TV station to court?
3. In what way was leniency shown?

Paul Morrison – ICT Operator
Programme for Service and Transport

I think I can boast about having saved my bosses a lot of money. What happened is this: When I started working as an ICT operator in our company, I noticed that the number of PCs containing a certain software programme significantly exceeded the number of licences that the company had bought. Everyone knows, of course, that licences cost a lot of money, and that the risk of being caught isn’t very high. Therefore, the practice of copying software is widespread, and my predecessor probably felt the company could avoid some extra expenses. The problem is, when a company grows and expands like ours has done over the past few years, things like these become increasingly visible, and the software producer may start to get suspicious that a company this size could do with only few licenses. When I aired my scepticism and outlined the consequences, our administration immediately took action.
1. What did Paul notice when he took over as ICT operator?
2. Why is illegal software copying so widespread?
3. What action do you think the company management took after Paul notified them?

Sandra Hutchinson – Fish farm associate
Programme for Agriculture, Fishing and Forestry

I work at a hatchery – or fish farm. We breed salmon, for the food industry. To the outside world a farmed salmon may be no different from a wild salmon, but professional breeders, anglers and environmentalists know that great care must be taken not to have hatchery salmon escape into the natural waterways, as the wild salmon may be infected with various diseases they can’t cope with. The wild salmon is much more vulnerable, and the result of a breakout of bred salmon may in the worst case be that an entire river sees the extinction of its wild salmon. Of course, accidents do happen, and you can take all the precautions in the world to avoid them, but there’s still no guarantee. Another side of the matter is that sometimes, bred salmon are deliberately freed from their enclosures, due to parasites for instance. This is of course criminal, and may result in considerable fines, hatchery shut-down, or imprisonment.
1. What happens at a hatchery?
2. Why must bred salmon be kept away from the natural waterways?
3. Do bred salmon escape only because of accidents?

John Parker – Butcher
Programme for Restaurant and Food Processing

cutting corners 5 When people buy their food in the shops and prepare and serve it at home, they usually take it for granted that the food is safe. And quite honestly, there’s no real cause for alarm or anxiety, at least not in our part of the world. The food processing business is subject to strict quality specifications. Some examples are: hygiene, disinfection of equipment and machinery, temperatures in storage rooms, etc. All of them are necessary precautions to ensure that the food is delivered to the end-users without being infected with bacteria, such as salmonella or ecoli, which are potentially life-threatening to humans. Seen in the context of such dramatic consequences, it’s difficult to understand why anyone would cut corners, but the cost of having to dump large quantities of food may lead them to take the risk of forwarding it to the next step in the process. The consequence may be death – to humans, and to the business.
1. Why can we rest assured the food we buy is safe to eat?
2. What are salmonella and ecoli?
3. What might still lead people in food processing to cut corners even though lives are at risk?