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Safety rules affect safety culture. Seeking workforce input on procedures is vital to creating that culture, as a key component to ensure safety goals are attained is workforce engagement. When developing or updating a safety program, you must ask your team for input, suggestions and feedback to ensure buy-in, understanding and adherence. Learn how to communicate both universal and situational safety rules and policies.

Using Universal Safety Rules in Program Development

Often, companies begin their safety program development with a list of cardinal rules best described as the always/never statements that apply universally in any situation and are always relevant. For example, always wear your seat belt or never operate equipment unless you’ve been trained and authorized. These are rules used daily and clearly understood. Supervisors can enforce these absolutes uniformly across the team every day.

Avoiding Safety Culture Breakdown by Correctly Identifying Situational Safety Rules

Contrast an always-applicable and universal rule with a rule designed solely for a specific, complex situation that has been incorrectly classified as a universal rule. This practice of not differentiating universal rules from situational rules has a negative effect on safety. Why? If a rule isn’t relevant or applicable in every situation yet is still presented as part of the daily always/never mix, it becomes a rule that is routinely ignored because it doesn’t apply to the work at hand. Consistently ignoring a rule, although an irrelevant rule, conditions the workforce to feel comfortable ignoring other universal rules as well. That’s when the safety culture begins to break down.

Sometimes, months of ignoring an irrelevant rule can go by without incident, because the conditions requiring the situational rule are not present. But when all the conditions do align and the situational rule is suddenly relevant and applicable, workers accustomed to ignoring the rule might continue to do so, creating a situation ripe for injury.

How do leaders avoid creating this dangerous scenario?

  • Identify tasks with specific conditions that require crucial rules yet are not always applicable daily.
  • Consider developing a procedure (standard operation procedure) for these situational rules instead of relying on an incorrectly labeled universal rule that will be ignored.

Implementing Safety Rules and Policy

During the implementation phase of any safety program, employees must understand their roles and how their adherence to procedures affects projects. In day-to-day operations, employees must have the support to perform their safety duties even amid the urgency of project deadlines. Engage employees on all levels to heighten awareness and adherence using activities designed to connect the body, mind, heart and soul. This helps ensure the workplace and work itself is organized, managed and performed in a way that is most effective.

Communicating for Successful Safety Programs

The single most effective tool is communication. Communicate clearly and employ flexibility and adaptability. Complexity is better handled with flexibility. In this context, flexibility means well-trained workers are trusted and held accountable through a high degree of self-discipline. Flexibility requires great communicators who continuously perform hazard assessment and understand their responsibility to stop work, reevaluate and adjust as conditions change. Engage your workforce through consistent communication and clearly defined safety rules to maximize the potential of your safety program.

Looking for help enhancing your safety program?

Discover resources available through ABC’s STEP Safety Management System and other health and safety topics at

For more information or assistance, please reach out to Joe Xavier or Aaron Braun