Making Smart Choices with Safety Rules and Policies

Making Smart Choices with Safety Rules and Policies

By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

Strong safety rules, policies and procedures are integral to incident prevention. While the topic of “rules” isn’t scintillating, it’s extremely important to get it right with procedures. It’s also easy to mess up if you’re not careful. For example, one auto manufacturing facility over-reacted to an employee eye injury by mandating safety glasses in all areas of the plant even where glasses really weren’t needed. This is sometimes called the shotgun effect. Although most employees begrudgingly wore their safety glasses, several employees got creative and popped the lenses out of their safety glasses and simply wore the frames over their noses in areas where safety glasses really weren’t needed. This was a clear statement to leaders that their voices weren’t being heard. 

Conversely, leaders at one Pennsylvania steel mill were concerned about compliance problems with lock-out/tag-out (LOTO) procedures. Rather than immediately threatening employees to comply, managers went around and spoke with hourly employees running the equipment. They found out the LOTO procedures were overly complicated and the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for LOTO were written for engineers, not hourly employees. To solve this problem, they brought in engineers, safety professionals, supervisors, and hourly employees to collectively streamline the LOTO process and revise the SOPs with user-friendly language. Overnight, the LOTO issue became a non-issue. This was less a compliance issue and more of a ‘talk to your people’ issue.

Overall, safety rules should be regularly updated and shared with employees, they should be practical with input from the field, the rationale behind policies should be shared with employees, and safety rules need to be consistently enforced. Statistically significant reductions in injuries are found when employees buy-in to (and believe in the quality of) company safety efforts, policies and procedures (Christian et al., 2009; Beus et al., 2010).

So how well is your organization doing with safety rules and procedures? Take a few moments and answer the following questions with a simple yes or no.

  • Safety policies and procedures are complete and well documented.
  • Safety rules/policies are relevant, practical, and applicable.
  • Safety procedures are regularly updated.
  • Hourly employees have input with new procedures/rules/rule changes.
  • Safety rules and rule changes are effectively shared with all employees.
  • Employees understand the rationale behind rules and procedures.
  • Safety policies/rules go well beyond legal requirements and incorporate industry best practices.
  • Safety procedures are regularly followed. Rule breaking is rare.
  • Employees regularly encourage coworkers to follow all safety rules/procedures.
  • Safety rules are fairly and consistently enforced.
  • Employees have easy access (including digital formats) to all rules/procedures
  • Policies and procedures are viewed as a good way to keep employees safe.

If you answered “yes” to all (or most all) of these items, you’re doing a great job with safety rules and policies. Nice job! However, if you answered “no” to many or most of these items, you need to take action now. Immediate steps are needed to either create, improve, or update your policies. Many safety rules may be misaligned with the actual work and both supervisors and employees may not believe they align well with the job. Expand information sharing with policies to include one-on-one and group conversations so employees understand the rationale behind rules. Also, focus on increasing the consistency of rules enforcement.

Improving safety policies takes work but don’t get discouraged. Making these advancements often entails getting and using more input from employees at various levels and in different groups. This cooperative spirit will help you improve policies but, along the way, it may also fuel overall safety culture advancement.

At Propulo, we work with leaders to get and use more employee input with safety policies and procedures to keep everyone safe.       

Take the following online Mini-Assessments to gauge the current effectiveness of your safety policies and procedures:

Additional online Mini-Assessments are available at


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