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90% of Safety Rules are Written for 10% of the People

Ninety percent of all safety rules are written for only 10% of a company’s workers. Now, that is a bold statement, particularly from someone like me, who has been involved in making safety rules for over 30 years.

First, let’s take a minute to look at how safety rules have historically been made. Then I will explain my bold statement.

In the old days, a company had a group of safety people who developed the rules. I was one of these people who looked for holes in safety and devised potential solutions. We safety people then presented our rules to management. If management agreed with our new rules, we updated the safety book and sent it out to all employees.

Later, we created a safety and management team who developed the rules together. We then presented these rules to the remainder of management. If everyone in management agreed, we updated the safety book and sent it out to all employees.

The safety and management team eventually evolved into a team of safety, management and craft employees who developed and revised the rules. This group helped shed a whole new light on safety rules – because the people who would have to enforce and follow the rules were now involved in making them.

All these rulemaking processes had one thing in common: Some people got hurt and some costly accidents occurred, so rules were created to help ensure the same incidents would never happen again. I remember one specific meeting when we discussed an employee who had recently been hurt while performing a task on the job, which was the catalyst to initiate a rule change. The change was based on a small percentage of employees who had hurt themselves while performing this task in the past, but we felt it was necessary.

And that’s why I stated at the beginning of this Tailgate that 90% of safety rules are written for only 10% of employees. So, let’s look at that 10%. Is it always the same people who get hurt?

Q&A
Let me explain to you what I’m getting at by first asking you some questions:

  • Can you tell me, truthfully, that you were at 100% effectiveness before you walked through the gate and went to work – every time?
  • Are there job tasks that are so simple to you that you can perform them without thinking too much?
  • Have you ever partied a little too much the night before a shift?
  • Have you ever had to sit up with a sick child the night before a shift and didn’t get a lot of sleep?
  • Have you ever had a fight with your spouse and didn’t know if you still had a home to go to?
  • Have you ever had elderly loved ones? Have you ever been worried about getting that dreaded phone call?
  • Have you ever had to work overtime most of the night and hurry back to work early the next morning?
  • Have you ever wanted to get off work on time because of an event you wanted to attend? Did this tempt you to take a shortcut?

All these real-life scenarios can interfere with an employee’s attention to detail. And anything that will distract your attention from the task at hand can cause you to experience an unplanned event. Whenever anything unanticipated happens, or your mind is focused on any of the items mentioned above, you are in that 10% that the safety rules are designed for.

I have personally been in that 10%. I would be willing to wager that each of you has been as well. It is desirable to not remain in the 10%, and people seldom do. But understand that it is likely you will be there at some point in your career.

This is why we have safety rules as well as redundancy in our rules and processes. I have been involved in a lot of incident investigations in my career and have found there is normally no single thing that led to the incident. The more serious ones usually occur because several things went wrong that led to the final outcome.

If you don’t already, I urge each of you to ensure a tailboard is conducted before a job starts and anytime something changes on the job site. Talk to one another. Listen to each other and confirm understanding. Keep an especially close eye on co-workers who seem distracted or tired. Take a few moments to clear your own head before performing any critical and/or irreversible steps and encourage others to do the same. And always follow the safety rules as prescribed by your company and OSHA.

About the Author: Rayford “RL” Grubbs, CUSP, is a safety and health manager for Think Power Solutions (www.thinkpowersolutions.com).


Rayford “RL” Grubbs, CUSP

About the Author: Rayford “RL” Grubbs, CUSP, is a safety and health manager for Think Power Solutions (www.thinkpowersolutions.com).

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