Hands holding letters which spell
Relying on rules to influence safe behaviour isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, people need to know how to behave in certain situations. Rules provide clarity and consistency; they act as simple reminders and in case of misdemeanours they help you pursue a fair and uniform approach to discipline.

Yet as you’ll probably know people don’t always follow the rules. So let’s understand why that happens and how to improve the situation.

If we put too much emphasis on rules and the disciplinary consequences of not following them, most of the time they will be followed. Yet people only choose correct behaviour in this instance because ultimately they don’t want to get in trouble.

Now, if an individual doesn’t think they’ll get into trouble (because they don’t think they’ll get caught) they’re highly likely to revert to their own choice of behaviour. Think of your own driving behaviour when you know there are no police or speed cameras on a stretch of open road!

The ideal situation is when people choose the correct behaviour (and comply with the rules) because they believe it’s the right thing to do. They recognise the more painful, potential consequences which could occur to themselves and others if they choose the alternative, unsafe options.

You’ll find this type of behaviour at the heart of every strong safety culture.

What you can do to make that happen

Managers and supervisors have a crucial part to play in how rules are interpreted and implemented by their teams. It isn’t enough to simply state the rules and then enforce them.

Instead leaders should explain the reasons behind the rules so that the true value of the rule is understood and teams buy into it. If a manager can’t explain why a rule is imposed then the rule itself should be challenged: “Do we really need to wear the protective equipment in this location?” “Do we really need to restrict vehicles to a 5mph speed limit on this stretch of road?”

Have you ever come across rules that you’ve challenged and found to be unnecessary? Share them in the comments below because you may well help others recognise similar situations in their workplace.

This is important because ridiculous and unnecessary rules undermine the more important ones. They also give safety a bad name (and give the tabloid press something to complain about!).