Part 2: Safety cardinal rules for line managers

Mike Goddu's picture
Mike Goddu, Partner & Co-Founder, JMJ Associates
Comments: 0

Note: This is Mike’s response to a number of comments posted to Part 1: “Safety cardinal rules for line managers, not just workers.” Read Part 1.

The words ‘rules and compliance’ appear in a number of reader comments.  A few argue that adding rules for managers will just result in a more compliance-driven culture and not necessarily a safer one. I agree.

More rules and compliance will not turn a site with a good safety record into a great one. I recognized this when I wrote the article, but I purposely chose a provocative title.

Ideally (and perhaps more rigorously), instead of “rules” I could have challenged readers to consider ways of being as cardinal or primary. This more nuanced wording is more accurate, but it isn’t as punchy. My intent is to challenge managers to stop imposing rigid structures of behavior on their workers without adopting for themselves high standards of ethics, learning and culture change and being accountable for these standards.

So I agree: rules are not the answer, even rules for managers!  I appreciate those comments that challenge the thinking (and me by extension!). Other readers make valuable observations:

  • maybe limit “Cardinal Rules” to complying with legislation or paying rapt attention to Fatal Risks?
  • perhaps people should be “free to think”?

In my travels I hear divergent views on rules. It seems most line and HSE managers I speak with believe that a foundation of rules and an accompanying structure of discipline for a breach or non-compliance must be in place first. Then we can build a more thoughtful, caring culture.

I also hear people arguing that short-service contractors and employees need to understand the basic requirements and know the immediate consequences of non-compliance. There isn’t time to develop people or contractor companies’ culture with these services.

Are rules a “must-have” and a thoughtful adaptive culture a “nice-to-have”? A few thoughts of my own: 

  • Accountability does not equal punishment. The word accountability to me means: “I will answer for my behaviour, results and factors in and out of my control. I will stand up and answer clearly and responsibly, without guilt or blame for my actions and results.”
  • Far too many sites are using the term “Just Culture” as a way to sanction punishment.  Sure, they adjust the penalty to the “crime” in a rational way, but it is punishment nonetheless.  Often, the responses I see are largely retributive, not restorative. Punishment should be reserved for criminals, not workers trying to get a job done and a family fed.  I don’t see workers committing crimes.  Thus my words in the article: “Stand up for rectifying the harm and restoring what has been lost, not retribution. Stand up for learning not blame… You will be surprised at the vastly different outcomes and solutions that arise from shifting your focus to learning from the harsh glare of blame”.

Getting away from punishing errors to learning from them may seem weak to some, but I assure you it will take a lot of courage!

I have seen and heard of managers forgoing punishment for other outcomes that prompt a learning and culture change on their sites. I’d welcome hearing of some examples from readers. And I welcome counter-arguments.

Finally, I want to thank you for commenting. Clearly you care deeply about safety, learning and engaging, not preaching. This is the future of improved safety – your authentic leadership.

Join the Conversation: Are rules a “must-have” and a thoughtful adaptive culture a “nice-to-have”? Leave your comments below.

Are you interested in speaking at Gastech 2017? Submit a HSSE, CSR & Local Content Abstract.  Alternatively, find out more about the conference topics for both commercial and technical streams.

More articles on HSE:

Photo: Courtesy of  JMJ Associates.