1. In hot water
I was installing a reverse-osmosis water-filtration system under the sink in a big fancy client's home (almost a million-dollar home). I cut the PEX pipe before the shut-off valve.
By the time I got the water main shut off down in the basement, the water had run down and destroyed their basement ceiling and was running like a river into the guy's fancy man cave and electronics.
The wife was screaming at me. She called her husband, who was a huge steroid-looking musclehead. I was sure I was going to be ended by him, as he screamed and raged. The veins in his neck looked like they would explode!
The boss's insurance covered the damage of $6,000 for repairs.
The company did not fire me.
2. Urine trouble
My buddy and I worked as toxicologists, drug-testing urine samples.
We ran thousands of samples of urine a day, on these giant spectrometer machines, and each sample had to get tested individually. Each drug has its own assay (a solution that turns opaque when that drug is present).
These assays come in one-gallon containers. To make refilling the machines easier, we pour the one-gallon containers into five-gallon jugs, with a nozzle on the bottom, and all eight of these five-gallon jugs are on this cart we push around to the machines.
So my buddy and I are chatting, and he accidentally pours a one-gallon assay bottle of one type of drug into the wrong assay jug.
To fix the issue, we had to dump the five-gallon jug he was filling, clean it thoroughly with deionized water and refill it with the right assay.
It turns out, each one-gallon jug we used to fill the containers with is about $10,000 each. So he ruined three gallons of assay that were already in there and the one gallon of another assay he dumped in.
Totaling a $40,000 mistake.
3. Lost without translation
I work with a summer school for international students. I prepare welcome packs to give them useful information when they first arrive on campus.
The packs include things like bus timetables, teacher contact details and a map of the university campus. But the most important thing is the timetable that tells them where to go on their first day.
And guess what didn't go into the pack?
So lots of international students with various levels of English, in a brand-new place, wandering around clueless. They have no idea where to go on their very important first day.
Pure chaos. Pretty much my fault.
4. Tech support not supportive
I used to work for a TV/internet tech-support call center. I had a first date lined up after work and wanted to get home.
A call came in at 9:59 p.m. He wanted me to walk him through a complicated process that would take a minimum of 45 minutes.
I tried to get this guy off the phone and get him to call back the next day, but that wasn’t happening. He wasn’t going to let me go.
I put him on hold to calm my nerves. My boss asked me what the deal was.
In response, I took off my headset and threw it into the wall. I told him in a way-too-loud voice some inappropriate things about the customer I was talking to.
Thankfully he didn't fire me, but I had to get back to the call.
I realized that when I threw the headset, it knocked the handset off of the receiver, taking the call off hold and made the handset hot.
The guy heard everything I said.
I felt sick to my stomach. I was certain this guy would want to speak to my boss, the call would be pulled and I would be fired.
Strangely enough, the customer said that he used to work at a similar job and knew the feeling. Despite being a jerk at the outset of the call, he actually turned out to be one of my more cooperative callers.
5. A plane mistake
I misinterpreted a fuel order a pilot gave me and overfueled his Falcon 9000.
We don't have defueling capabilities on our fuel trucks. I called a coworker, and we luckily had some 100-gallon barrels and a pump.
We drove a forklift and the barrels out to the jet and manually pumped the jet fuel out from an over wing fueling port.
The pilots had to transfer fuel from one wing to the one we were using to pump fuel out of because we did not want to stick the hose too far into the wing to prevent internal wing damage.
It took about two to three hours from the time I recognized my mistake, to getting all the fuel off board. The fuel that was off loaded was unusable.
I lost my company about $1,500 in jet fuel.
6. Oil is not well
I once made a buggy change to some software I was helping develop.
It worked OK in testing but didn't scale once there were dozens of users hitting it and it took down the web server. We redirected the users to a backup server, but it went down, too.
This caused about a dozen offshore oil rigs to not be able to do their normal morning shift reports while we tried to troubleshoot.
They need their morning reports for planning purposes, so this caused a chain reaction where they went back to emailing spreadsheets to their bosses, which cost them more time to do analysis and made them delay some decisions.
All told, that bug knocking servers offline probably cost several million USD in unrealized oil production.
7. A sweet ending
Beekeeper in California, making summer rounds with a partner checking hives.
We would clear out dead/dying hives and build up strong hives. End of the day, we're heading back on I-80 with a load of dead hives and extras for building strong hives.
Our tie-down comes loose, and suddenly about 20 hives are on the freeway. Carnage ensues, with cars hitting hives, honeycomb everywhere, bees getting massacred on windshields.
In a panic, I sprint onto the freeway to try to get debris off. My life flashes before my eyes in the form of a semi-truck, and I suddenly realize I'm an idiot.
Cops show up and end up closing the freeway for 10 minutes while we clean our mess up. Only one person complained about getting hit by a hive, but there must have been more.
Out of all the hives that went onto the freeway, we recovered a single box and maybe 15 frames of comb, out of about 180.
Nobody got into trouble, thanks to our boss being a great guy and us not hurting anyone.
8. Lost every bit
I worked for a large production company — not large physically, but we built machines that cost millions each.
I was in the IT department. In my first few months there, we installed a new domain controller server that required all users to create a new profile on their workstation and transfer all their files over.
After doing this mundane, repetitive task for about four hours, I got to the last computer before my lunch break: the production manager’s.
One wrong click later, and every file on his computer was history, including the production schedule for the next two months, of which he had no backup.
We later questioned why such an important file had no backup, but that wasn't my problem. Oddly, I was not fired.
9. Got this on lock
I worked in a little computer sales store, with one other person (the owner).
Our typical schedule was that he opened, I closed and I worked the entire Saturday shift. I worked my typical Saturday shift and closed down the store at 3:00 p.m., something I'd done dozens of times.
I had to open Monday morning for my boss. Going through the opening routine, I deactivated the security code and turned on all the lights and signs.
When I got to our front door (on the street front), I found I hadn't locked the front door on Saturday afternoon!
It was obvious nothing happened, because the security system had been activated and it's attached to both doors and the store is motion detected.
I can't imagine what would have happened if my boss had opened, or if something else would have happened.
10. A negative experience
I worked in a photo lab. We were generally busier in the summer, as many people were dropping off film from family trips and vacations.
When we develop the film, all we do is attach it to a leader card, and the leader card drags it through all the rollers into the different solutions for developing. They come out dry, developed and no longer light-sensitive on the other side.
Well, it was a particularly busy summer day, and I was trying to play catch up. Apparently one of the leader cards was bad and the little slots in the side (that link it to the gears to move it through the machine) were broken, and a couple rolls go jammed.
I ended up with two different customers' rolls of film chemically bonded together inside the machine. Impossible to develop pictures for these two rolls.
Anyway, the customers come back to try to pick up their pictures. One was a middle-aged guy and the other was a girl I graduated high school with.
I explain the situation to them and apologize. Dude was completely furious, because they were pictures of his newborn son, apparently before they even left the hospital.
The girl just cried because they were the pictures from the last trip she and her friend had taken, just before she died several weeks before.
11. They messed up, pig time
I used to work for the purchasing department at my school as a summer job.
It's preschool through 12th grade, and we had to handle all the orders that came in (art supplies, new textbooks) so that the teachers would have all their stuff for the new school year.
So it's my first summer working at the school, and one day we get this delivery that's just a bunch of heavy-as-hell white buckets. It turns out they are the dissection specimens for the biology students.
My mistake: stacking the buckets three high on a dolly.
One of the buckets fell over and landed on a top corner where the seal was. The seal broke and a bunch of formaldehyde and fetal pigs were released onto the carpeted floor, thereby releasing a terrible odor.
It took three hours for the custodians to clean it all up, and we had to order another bucket of pigs.
12. Pool decisions
I'm a server at a hotel in the Midwest, and one night a blizzard outside was so bad that they gave all of the hotel employees free rooms.
After we closed, I wanted a drink with some of my coworkers. We all met up in a chef's room. All of the guys were over 21, but the two girls that were with us were 17 and 19.
The manager on duty let us into the pool at 3:00 a.m. We were swimming around and drinking from a glass bottle in the pool.
We all woke up the next morning and were called into the restaurant by the witchy morning supervisor. She found out, told the managers of the hotel, and they tried to get us all fired.
The manager on duty lost his job, but we all just got written up.
13. The steaks were high
I work at a rather popular restaurant. Anyway, one day I’m on the food line, and I get an order for a table for two filet steak dinners, one without seasoning.
The manager on duty hands me the steaks and sends me on my merry way. I come to the table, and the woman asks which is the one without seasoning.
I hand her one of them, I walk away and I see my manager talking to them at the table. I also saw a gift certificate to our restaurant and I was wondering what was going on.
I ask the waiter, and he says, "Oh, the woman at my table was allergic to seasoning on her steak." Oops.
So I proceed to freak out but then realize the woman is fine.
The waiter, the cook, the head chef and a whole bunch of people got yelled at that day, and no one suspected me of anything.
14. Check the checks
I work in social services, approving/denying people for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Medicaid.
A few years ago, I approved this lady for diversionary TANF. Basically, it's a program that pays whatever bills you need help with when you lose a job. I approved her for about $1,800 and cut checks to her landlord and utility companies.
We have a policy that after we complete a case, our supervisor checks it for errors.
Somehow, I messed up this woman’s case (even after it was explained to me, I still have no idea what the heck I did wrong). She wasn't eligible for $1,800 but was eligible for a much lower amount.
I had to make the woman come in and explain to her that I messed up and that she had to pay that money back.
She wasn't too upset and agreed to pay it back by $10 a month. I still feel bad and cringe every time I think about it.
15. Forgot the film
A major newspaper was completing a new color printing facility and wanted me to make an animation of the enormously complicated conveyor belt system that snaked through the 10-acre site.
They'd spent hundreds of millions of dollars on it, and they wanted to show it off to advertisers, even though it wasn't totally operational yet.
To mock up the movement, I arranged more than a dozen techs and supervisors throughout the plant on walkie-talkies so I could take a shot, then have everyone manually nudge the conveyor forward a foot, then take another shot, nudge, and so on and so forth.
We started shooting: move ahead, move ahead, move ahead, shoot. Things were going fine for about 10 minutes before I looked down and realized I'd forgotten to load the film.
16. Record scratch
I work at a record store. I usually work the closing shifts, so I normally don't deal with shipping orders.
This particular time, I was covering an opening shift. My boss prepared the order items and gave me all of them. My boss is a very short-tempered man with a huge lack of patience.
I'm trying to get everything in order, but all the while I am paranoid that I'm doing something wrong. He helped me out with some of the orders and that was that.
Fast forward a week or so, and I get to work. I see my boss, and he stares me down and gestures with his index finger to come over to his office.
I enter his office, and a long, awkward pause ensues. He tells me to read the customer review on his computer.
Turns out, I sent a CD and 45-inch vinyl to their opposite addresses. One location was France, the other was Brazil.
I'm terrified of my boss at this point. I just apologized profusely to him and told him to take any fees it would take to reverse this out of my paycheck.
He luckily just said he couldn't morally do that, knowing full well I'm not used to shipping. Turned out to be a bit better than expected.
17. Oh, the irony
I used to be a busser at a local country club. During my first week at work, I was told to go to the basement and turn off the industrial-grade ironing machine. It was also around 500 degrees in the basement.
So I go to turn it off, but I have absolutely no idea how it works. I look around a bit and decide that it would be a grand idea to hit the big red button. This causes a fairly loud alarm to go off.
I look around a bit and find a red lever on the side, which I activate. The alarm stops, the machine stops, life is good.
Thinking I had succeeded in my duty, I closed up shop and went home. When I got to work the next day, I heard some disturbing news.
The ironing machine had apparently melted the conveyor belts due to the sudden stop. Everyone thought that it was just a mechanical error, but I knew otherwise.
Cost around $1,500 to fix.
18. Doughnut worry
I work at a bakery, and we don't scan our products into the register. We enter the number code manually: quantity X product number.
I had never worked a register before, and on my first day someone wanted to get a loaf of wheat bread, which was No. 1007.
Well, I swapped the 1 x 1007 for 1007 x 1 — "1" being our $1 doughnuts. So I just charged someone's credit card for $1,007 worth of doughnuts.
We got it fixed fast enough (thankfully there's a "cancel last transaction" button), and the customer was a good sport about it.
But boy was I scared when it hit me what I'd just done.
19. Fifteen texts
I used to send those annoying text messages you get from your mobile provider. Like, "Welcome to Verizon.” Then the next day a text would say, "If you would like to send texts cheaper, buy 100 texts for $0.99."
Every new, prepaid number was loaded on this path and sent a text a day.
Some of those numbers didn't get the texts because of my error. So, the easy fix? Restart!
It was a bit more technical, but it was a restart. So those guys got their texts, and people who were already texted, got texted again. All 15 messages, instantly.
Tens of thousands of customers received these texts from a new cellphone company. I don't know if it was my fault, but the brand never took off and was scrapped.
20. Don't know jack
When I was 16, I was the only person working at a dry-cleaning store.
The phone went out of service for some reason. I unplugged the jack and plugged it into the jack next to it. This did not fix the problem, but I left it there anyway.
Customers came in all day, and the credit-card machine wouldn't work because the phone line was off. People were picking up $200 dry-cleaning orders and having to pay cash and getting very upset.
My manager hired a telephone repairman to come in the next day, and he spent an hour and billed the company $100 before figuring out that the cord was in the wrong jack.
My career as a clerk at a dry-cleaning store was abruptly ended by an awkward phone call from the manager, who was trying to fire me in a non-confrontational way.
21. Taking charge
I work in live sound quite a lot. We use a lot of wireless microphones for vocals, which requires a lot of nine-volt batteries.
I'm always changing out batteries for all performances, but during the practise session for a show later in the night, I left old batteries in. No big deal. Just change them between practise and the show.
I got to doing other prep things and forgot. In the middle of the second song, batteries go down to zero, and I'm in trouble. This show is pretty low key, so I don't have much help, just a video guy.
Fast as lighting, I run down the stairs from my mixing board with batteries in hand, waiting for an instrumental section.
I changed out batteries in record speed.
22. Card-carrying villain
My first job out of high school was in the electronics department of a Fred Meyer (supermarket).
A year into the job, this nice guy came in and bought the most expensive camcorder we had. This was in the mid '90s, so camcorders weren't cheap.
He charged it, and I thought nothing of it. About a week later, he came in looking for me, proceeded to buy a nice, high-end car stereo. Charged it again. I worked the closing shift, because I was in college classes during the day.
A couple weeks later, when I got to work in the evening, someone let me know that the head of corporate security called to speak with me. It was too late to give her a call.
The next morning, I saw on the front of the local newspaper that the guy I'd sold all this stuff to had been arrested a few states over. He and an accomplice went on a spending spree with someone else’s credit card.
I never did end up talking to security, nor did I get in trouble. Sure thought I was going to.
23. Cold and colder
It was my second week on the job in a cafe of a supermarket.
I was asked to move a bunch of cages from the loading bay to the stockroom. Did the job, took my time, whistled and walked away.
I came back the next day to an extremely pleased staff, feasting on a now-entirely-defrosted pallet of ready meals, steaks, desserts and cakes.
Turns out, I had accidentally stuck hundreds of pounds of frozen stock in the walk-in refrigerator, somehow not noticing all of the, you know, ice.
Manager was considerably less enamored. I was given a lengthy monologue on the difference between fridge (cold) and freezer (colder) while being humiliatingly guided between the various warehouse cold rooms.
24. Cleanup duty
During the summer before I started university, I worked with my buddy as a car-part inspector.
Basically, there would be giant bins with a few hundred (500 was the average) car parts in each one, and we would just use a marker to make sure the parts didn't have any defects (hole or cracks).
They would stack these bins to save space, and sometimes the bins themselves would be damaged (but good enough to work). One guy was using a forklift to move a stack around.
Long story short, he messed it up and about four bins filled with marked parts came crashing down everywhere. There were thousands of oil pans everywhere, and quite a few were damaged due to the fall.
Me and my friend saw the entire thing and knew it was his fault. Management came running, getting ready to crack some skulls.
Since we were buddies with the driver, we vouched for him, and told management that it fell due to the damaged bins.
The driver didn't get fired but after that he wasn't allowed to use the forklift anymore and he became the janitor.
25. Didn’t meat expectations
I was the lead banquet cook for an event with over 300 people.
We were supposed to have two turducken-carving stations. I was responsible for putting the turducken in the oven at 6:00 a.m. on the morning of the event.
I accidentally put in the turducken set aside for a function the next day. These ones were only partially thawed. Pretty much just enough to look thawed.
I popped them in the oven. Outside cooks normally. But they were stone cold, raw about one inch in. I didn’t figure it out until the first one was being sliced into in front of the guests.
I lost my job.
26. Some very salty customers
I had recently been promoted from dishwasher to prep cook at a small restaurant I worked at while in high school.
I needed to make the sauce for the burgers, which was about five gallons worth in total.
When making the recipe, I accidentally dumped in a pound (or whatever the recipe called for) of salt, thinking it was sugar.
They had people complaining about the taste of their burgers for days.
What's worse, the restaurant was struggling to begin with, and this sure didn't help.
I was demoted pretty quickly back to dishwasher after that and replaced by a 12-year- old, who was the owner's son.
27. Light lunch
I was a server working for a restaurant that is part of a reasonably large national chain.
About three weeks after I started the job, one of the corporate vice-presidents for the chain was seated at one of my tables. I took his order but somehow screwed up entering it into the computer.
Meaning I entered nothing at all.
A half an hour passed before I even realized I had made the mistake, and it was another 15 minutes before we could get his food on the table.
Despite this epic disaster, the guy still left me a $100 tip.
I was so ashamed I gave the money to my coworkers.
28. Sunk costs
I'm a marine engineer, and about six years ago, I was working on a large semi-submersible accommodation/multi-service rig.
The rig was attached to a large floating production vessel (FPSO), and I ended up causing a blackout on the rig. The rig lost propulsion and started drifting down the side of the FPSO.
The gangway (bridge connection) destroyed several bits of pipework on the FPSO and ended up with our vessel going off contract due to the damage done to the gangway.
The result: We lost 14 days of our contract time, at a cost of $150,000 to $175,000 per day, not including repairs.
I do not work there anymore.