General Motors bans words describing defective products

A major United States automaker issued instructions to their employees to avoid using certain words and phrases in emails and other internal communications. Florida residents and others may be interested to learn that workers are prohibited from using “widowmaker,” “deathtrap” and “rolling sarcophagus” to describe the automobiles made by General Motors.

Additionally, phrases to avoid include “Unbelievable engineering screw-up” and “This is a lawsuit waiting to happen,” both of which were cited as examples of “comments that do not help identify and solve problems.” Certain words were also identified as “judgment words;” among them, “You’re toast,” “Hindenburg,” “Titanic,” “apocalyptic” and “powder keg” were considered especially inflammatory.

The list is part of a 2008 presentation attended by GM employees on acceptable ways of communicating with each other about potential safety issues. They were discouraged from using basic words like “failure,” “safety,” “defect” “safety related” and “serious” in communications regarding defective products. Suggested alternate descriptions for “safety” like “Has potential safety implications” and substituting “Does not perform to design” in place of “defect” were featured. Designs did not have “problems;” rather, they were “Issue[s], condition[s], matter[s].”

The Acting Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was critical toward GM over the presentation during last week’s press conference. He stated that by admonishing employees to refrain from using certain words and phrases in their communications regarding safety issues, the company discouraged free discussion about potential problems.

General Motors responded with a written statement that reads, in part: “We encourage employees to be factual in their statements and will continue to work with NHTSA to improve our safety processes. Today’s GM encourages employees to discuss safety issues, which is re-enforced through GM’s recently announced Speak Up for Safety Program.”

The “Speak Up for Safety” program was put in place by GM to recognize employees who develop ideas to make the company’s vehicles safer or those who identify potential safety issues.

The presentation was called “GM confidential” and was submitted to NHTSA by the company during the investigation of GM’s delayed recall of its Chevrolet Cobalt and other vehicles because of problems with the ignition switches.

The imposition of a $35 million fine, which is the maximum limit for a sole violation, is just a portion of what the automaker has paid or will likely pay in settlements and judgments in wrongful death cases filed by attorneys all over the nation.

SourceCNN, “‘Deathtrap’ on GM’s naughty words list” Peter Valdes-Dapena, May. 17, 2014