Why Does Forcing Safety Rules on People Backfire?

Why Forcing Your Safety Rules on People Backfires and What to Do Instead!

Date Posted: 15th April 2021

Have you ever tried forcing safety rules on people? Did it work or did it backfire?

Do not conquer the world with force, for force only causes resistance:

In all of my years of of receiving health and safety training, and all the courses that I’ve done, they never taught me that, they never taught me that if you try to impose your will, your system or your ideas on to other people, then on the whole they tend to resist you in some way.

Sometimes that might be just over a disagreement, or sometimes they might go along with what you’re saying, but as soon as you turn your back they stop following the system. In extreme cases they may even sabotage things out of sheer resentment that you didn’t listen to them. 

But there’s a better way, and I learnt this at my own expense after many years of trying to force people to do things and never get getting very far with it. 

So what are the best ways without forcing safety rules on them?

A good way of getting people to do things, to commit to things, is to ask them for their opinion, involve them in the discussion and give them as much freedom as you can to make decisions that affects them. 

One of the ways I would do this, (let’s stick to health and safety), if you can get them to commit to a very vague objective like: “let’s make things safer”, I think most people would agree that they would like to make things safer. 

You may have your own ideas on how to make things safer, but it’s important to include your team in these decisions so they take more ownership of it without forcing safety rules on to them. 

You could ask your team questions like: 

  • How do you think we should make things safer? 
  • What are the barriers to safety that you can see? 
  • What are the main risks that we have to deal with? 
  • What would be things that we could do? 
  • But more importantly, what are the things that you are prepared to do day to day to make things safer? 

What are the dangers if people disagree?

Now the danger here is that they may come up with ideas that you don’t agree with, they won’t be quite as good as your ideas, you might have the perfect vision of how things can be made safer, but you need to let that go because that’s actually your ego talking. 

I know you’re more experienced than they are, you’re better qualified and more competent, you may have lots of qualifications and so on, but ultimately, if they don’t agree with it, or can’t do it, or don’t want to do it, then they won’t do it.

The best idea is the one which can be implemented and can be sustained which delivers results over time.

So you need to park your own idea and let them do what they think is best. 

Obviously, there’s a limit to that. If you’re breaking the law or if there’s an imminent risk of danger, then you have to step in. But on the whole, give them as much freedom as you can to do the things which they think work best without forcing safety rules on to them. They will ultimately take more ownership of it and it will become theirs, not yours.

What next?

Once they’ve implemented their plan and they’re monitoring it, you could ask some follow-up questions like:

  • Now that things are safe, how do you think we could make things even more safer? 
  • What are the risks now? 
  • What would you be prepared to do now? 

And this takes us on an incremental change. You accept their ideas. You let them implement them. And then over time, you incrementally change things. This is actually just a form of coaching.

So just remember the key thing for today: force breeds resistance. 

If people disagree with your safety rules, give them as much freedom as you possibly can to make their own decisions on things that affect them. But forcing safety rules on to them will only backfire.

If you’d like to learn more about managing people effectively and getting the best out of your team, check out our course here!

Take care team!