Large organisations which are seeking to harmonise HSE management across their different processes and sites often look, among other actions, to deploy a set of rules such as ‘Golden Safety Rules’. But do they work? Is this the right name for them? And how do you go about naming, defining, implementing and enforcing them?
Is the ‘rules’ word a turn-off right from the beginning? Does making them ‘golden’ elevate them to the right spot? Is that spot weakened if you paint every rule with gold? Should only those rules which help to reduce the risk of serious injury and death be given the golden touch? Or should you name them by making the benefit explicit (Life Saving Rules?) Should you up the fear factor with the threat of punishment from a higher power (Cardinal Rules?). And if you call them something like ‘Safety Non-negotiables’ are you prepared to follow through on the punishment if these rules are violated?
Setting and enforcing rules is not an easy concept – after all, we are all human and the last thing a company wants to do is to take away the ability of people to think for themselves, to identify and understand risk and use their own initiative.
So, why are rules needed?
If we don’t follow rules, accidents will happen.
Studies of off-shore installations found that ‘failure to follow rules’ is the third most important perceived cause of accidents (after ‘not thinking the job through’ and ‘carelessness’). And Dutch studies of the chemical industry regarding loss of containment also found that 50% of incidents related to problems with procedure.
How effective are rules?
But just having the rules isn’t enough! A study of safety rules in the Dutch railways showed that:
- only 3% of workers used rules often, and almost 50% never!
- 79% thought there were too many rules
- 95% thought that if they kept to the rules, work couldn’t be completed in time.
Similarly, a survey of 400 operators and managers in the chemical industry cited these reasons for not following procedures:
- 62% said that, if followed to the letter, the job couldn’t be done in time
- 70% expressed the view that people assume they know what’s in the procedure
- 34% resented being told how to do their job and saw rules as a restriction and a slur on their competence.