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The Rule of Should

I have been working in the health and safety realm for many years, and I enjoy sharing with others the experiences I’ve had and the knowledge I’ve acquired. I often distill my know-how into short pieces of advice that get my message across without sounding too preachy. Over the years, some people started calling my one-line safety slogans “RLisms,” and today I want to share with you two RLisms that go together.

RLism Number One 
The first RLism is that no one purposely violates a life-threatening rule. Now, most of you are aware of someone who was seriously injured, or worse, when a rule or work practice was violated. It could have been the result of a step being left out of a process or someone cutting corners to expedite a job’s completion.

But consider this: The person who violated the rule or work practice had to perceive that the task at hand was life threatening – yet maybe it never occurred to them that it was. Perhaps they had performed the same task before with no ill effects. Or, what is more troublesome, they observed someone with more skill and experience perform the task and then they tried to do it the same way, but with only limited skill and experience. For seasoned workers, it is important to remember that you are constantly teaching while you are working. Younger workers are watching you and thinking you are doing things the right way. For their sake, you must use safe work habits all the time.

RLism Number Two 
“The Rule of Should” is the second RLism I want to tell you about. As an OSHA-authorized trainer and a utility safety professional, I have been involved in writing rules and safety manuals for a long time. Almost every one of those rules utilizes the word “shall” or “should.”

“Shall” rules must be followed all the time. Some are OSHA regulations or laws. A shall rule may also have come into force because of an event that happened at a company that was so devastating, the company said the rule must be followed without deviation, or it could be something that has been on the books for a long time.

In the other category are “should” rules. A should rule encompasses all the good practices we typically follow but allow deviation from if a well-thought-out plan is developed. This is not the rule I am discussing here. We are not reviewing those rules that are written down and should be followed. We are discussing The Rule of Should, which is not in your safety book. Consider using The Rule of Should when you are performing a task and think:

  • “I should install more cover on that conductor.”
  • “I should wait until someone gets here to watch my back.”
  • “I should adjust my speed due to these road or weather conditions.”

The word “should” in each of the sentences above indicates you have a choice. For example, you could decide not to adjust your driving speed on a rainy night, but you know that you should. The point is, these working thoughts that pop into your head signify that you realize you are in danger of violating the first RLism – that no one purposely violates a life-threatening rule. You may call it your “better judgment” or perhaps “common sense,” but these terms add up to the same thing: what I call The Rule of Should.

If all of us would listen a bit more to our internal Rule of Should, we could take even greater strides toward minimizing incidents. So, the next time you think the words “I should,” look around to see if you are about to violate a life-threatening rule – and then choose to act in the safest way possible.

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

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Rayford “RL” Grubbs, CUSP

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