Behind Every Safety Rule Is A Story

Behind Every Safety Rule Is A Story (usually only 1)

unquantifiable hazardsA friend of mine recently organised a holiday apartment through Airbnb. They sent him a short list of house rules and the last one was: “Please be considerate and only use oil based lubricant” – I immediately started to imagine what had happened for that rule to make the list, out of all the other rules they could have listed? ……..did the new driveway get stained or did the frying pan get burnt? I’ve challenged him to find out but not sure if I will be able to share the answer.

We’ve all seen silly warnings like the one on irons that say “do not iron clothes whilst wearing” or on children’s clothes that say “remove child before washing” – there are plenty more on our This Toaster Is Hot Page. I don’t think these rules are just the result of a sense of humour or vivid imagination!

We’ve all encountered a list of safety rules at work. Some make sense but some make no sense at all and seem quite stupid – like wearing hard hat, steel caps, hi viz and gloves to take a bus trip around a site??? Do we or should we question these rules or just blindly accept them and put our faith in the creator?

Next time you see or are given a new rule, I challenge you to ask: “What’s the story”?

I recently visited a major construction site and was asked to sign in, below half a page of very fine print, at 3 different work areas. I asked why? and nobody could tell me. I wasn’t asked to sign out again so does this mean they are still looking for me? The good thing is that Safety had created 3 additional full-time jobs with this process! For 20 years I’ve purposefully avoided signing out of visitor books and I’ve never had a phone call!!!!

Whilst I originally felt like writing an article about rules, all I can think of now are questions rather than answers”

  • imageAre DON’T DO rules (commonly found in safety) more effective than rules telling us what we CAN do? I certainly find the signs in my state telling me where I can do a U-turn are much more acceptable than in other states where they tell you where you can’t do one?
  • Are we more likely to follow rules if we know and understand the story behind them?
  • Are most rules implemented in response to a one off situation or a “knee-jerk” and would sometimes doing nothing be a better option?
  • Do some rules actually give us ideas or challenges?
  • What about the “unwritten” or culturally based rules?
  • What do our rules say about us, our leadership and our agenda?
  • Once we make a rule how do we revoke it if it isn’t working?
  • How do we know when we have enough or too many rules? When do we stop? Do we just keep adding/changing every time something happens?
  • If we need so many rules then how can there be any such thing as common sense?
  • Are rules mainly aimed at the people who will ignore them anyway and may simply end up offending those who don’t need them?
  • Do we ever consider the by-products of the rules we make and the people they may harm? see:  Unintended Consequences of Over Regulation
  • Does establishing priorities like “Golden Safety Rules”  and zero tolerance of their breaches really help a safety culture as claimed or does this lead to over confidence and lack of thinking – it is very possible to still get badly injured by following these rules?
  • Can a great rule one minute be just as easily be a burden in the next?
  • Do we only appreciate rules when they hinder or control somebody else and despise them when they directly affect us?
  • Should rules serve people or should people be slaves to rules?
  • When is it OK to break them?
  • What is the best way to communicate them? How do we know people know and understand them?
  • Do the same rules apply to everybody? If not, why not?
  • Are we prepared to enforce them? How? More rules?
  • When a rule seems crazy or over the top are we tempted to just ignore it? See Risk Homeostasis

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