"This is how you set up the monitoring?" Shawn G. looked down at the system in disbelief. There was a watchdog connected to a power relay to ensure that it was always running. The power relay sat right next to the power switch in a sealed environmental enclosure.

Oh well, Shawn thought, this is what I'm here to work on. I'll get this set up right. He reached into the dark enclosure for the power switch to reboot the system. And missed the switch.

Instead, he grabbed the relay contact, jumped back from the system yelling a word or two that would make a sailor blush, and waved his throbbing hand around. One of his colleagues, arms aflail, ran around yelling "SAFETY OFFICER!"

As Shawn sat there, rubbing his hand, he noticed the cover for the power relay sitting comfortably on a nearby table — he wasn't sure why it wasn't on the relay, but it explained the jolt. Finally the safety officer was on the scene, spreading yellow tape and warning signs, marking each individual outlet and power switch with safety tags. He sent Shawn to the staff nurse, gave him the workman's comp paperwork, and an official incident report form.

The following week Shawn was summoned to a meeting with the safety commission — a humorless, perpetually frowning group that was clearly not happy about the incident. The room seemed as though it was designed to intimidate Shawn. He'd sit opposite the group in a beat-up chair that sat directly under a bright light. It was beginning to feel more like an interrogation than a meeting.

Of course, Shawn was feeling confident. They couldn't come after him for getting hurt by trying to turn on a computer since someone left electrical components exposed.

Unamusedly, a committee member spoke up. "Do you have any authority under union regulations to operate power equipment?"

Shawn thought and chose his words carefully. "No, I don't have that authority, but I am allowed to operate a power switch on a computer."

"Ah," one of the committe said while trying to grin, "but it is a power switch, and therefore it is power equipment, which falls under the electrical trades union agreement." The others similarly tried to grin, satisfied that they'd avoided a lawsuit that day.

"It is therefore the finding of this committee that you have violated your authority under union regulations." How dare Shawn try to use the power switch without proper authorization? "A safety violation will be recorded on your permanent record."

That's where Shawn got freaked out a little. Burn his Social Security card, tear up his high school diploma, ruin his credit score, but God help him if there's another blemish on his permanent record! He still has to live with the last incident that had gone on his permanent record, when he made fart sounds with his armpit during class in the second grade.

Shawn kept his copy of the incident report and swore to himself that he wouldn't let something like this happen again. That afternoon he grabbed a stack of work order forms and filled one out.

********* WORK ORDER FORM *********

Employee Name: Shawn G.        Work Date: 05/13/2008 5:00 PM
Work Performed By: Electrical Trade Union
Action Requested:

  Please shut down my computer when I'm ready to leave for
  the day.

...

Shawn urged his colleagues to do the same — after all, they're not authorized. Gradually, more and more people joined in and work orders were opened for the electrical union faster than they could be signed. The staff needed computers turned on and off, light switches toggled, fans plugged in and unplugged, coffee makers turned on, radios turned off, pencils sharpened (though analog sharpeners were OK).

It didn't take long for Shawn to get summoned to the director's office. "Funny thing, Shawn," he began with a forced smile. "Seems your safety citation got lost somewhere in the system, so your file is clean. Aside from that fart noise thing." As Shawn was about to turn around and leave, the director added, "if you don't mind, could you let people know that they can stop filing work orders for every power switch."

The following month everyone became responsible for small electronics. And they didn't even have to go through an equipment training session!