Reasons Why Safety Policies Aren’t Always Followed

When I was starting out as a safety professional, I believed that safety policies, because they were the law, were always followed. But I was very wrong, employees don’t always follow policies, and management teams don’t always enforce them.

But this begs the question of why. Why aren’t following it for their safety and compliance? Let’s dive into a few reasons why.

People Have Their Own Beliefs and Knowledge

This is the first reason why employees don’t follow safety policies. These employees think that these policies aren’t practical and will not solve the problem.

Why do they believe this? Because they might have been working in the company for a long time and have been doing their tasks for years.

Imagine someone comes along with no experience in your job and then tells you to change how you do things because it is safer and better. How would you feel?

To start working around this problem, what you need to do is accept the fact that you really don’t have a complete idea about everything that’s going on in the company. So, the first thing you need to do and go to every different workplace, observe, and even get some first-hand experience from it.

But of course, observing for just a day or two isn’t enough. That is why you must consult the employees who’re actually working there. Get their feedback and suggestions as to what solutions they think is the best.

People Don’t Like Being Told What to Do

This is another simple reason why safety policies aren’t being followed. It’s because innately, we don’t like being told what to do.

Now why do people feel like this? Because it is uncomfortable. New safety policies mean changing the way we do things. And for us humans, change is uncomfortable.

To work around this problem, we need to acknowledge that people accept changes when there is a vested interest in them. When they receive benefits from it.

Now, you might think monetary benefits might be the solution but there is a better way to do it. Employees will be invested in it if they are involved in the decision-making. So, get everyone’s consensus from the regular workers up to the management team. This way, they’ll feel responsible for making the policy a success.

People Believe They Can Get Away with It

This is another common problem when implementing a policy. Employees feel that they don’t need to follow policies because they can get away with minor infractions. And this becomes more problematic if they saw employees not being punished for not following policies.

Now why do employees feel this way? It’s because of the lack of accountability. Usually, a safety policy violator only gets written up when there is a large accident that has happened. But when only minor infractions happen, we tend to be lenient when it comes to the penalties.

So what you need to do is be more consistent in setting up accountability and dealing with violations. Another thing that you can do is be reasonable with the safety policies. Because if it’s too strict, you might get backlash. If it’s too lax, employees might be too lenient and cause more accidents.

Take Action

So in summary, human nature is what causes employees to not follow safety policies but you can still work around it. If you want to learn more about how to become a better safety manager, then check out Safety Management Academy.

Why Your Safety Policies Aren't Being Followed, Even When They're Required

Safety Brye: [00:00:00] Hey there, safety friends. Welcome to the Safety Geek Podcast. I'm Brye Sargent, CSP and 20 year Safety Professional. After spending years training safety leaders across the globe for a large corporation and creating safety programs from the ground up over and over again, I am now sharing my processes and strategies with you.

At the Safety Geek, you will learn how to manage an effecrive safety program that increases your management support and employee engagement, all the while helping you elevate your position and move up in your career. If you're ready to step into the role of a safety influencer and leader, you're in the right place.

Let's get to it.

Well, hey there, safety friend. Today we are talking about one of the biggest myths that I see in safety management. And [00:01:00] this is when you have a policy and you say, well, it's in policy. Of course they're gonna follow it. And I swear when I hear people say this, when they say these words to me, it literally takes everything I have to hold back from laughing or to just look at them in disbelief.

And for those of you that are out there right now and you're saying, Brye, this just doesn't happen. Nobody believes that. Let me correct you because more times than not, more times than I can even count on my hands. I have had executives and VPs and directors and managers say to me, well, it's in policy, so of course they're gonna do it, or we told them to do it, so of course they're gonna follow it.

And lemme be fully honest with you, I've done this myself. I remember a long time ago I was out with friends. We were in like this restaurant, and they were asking [00:02:00] like, Hey, do you think they're gonna do this thing? I can't remember what it was. It was something with food safety. And I said, well, of course they're gonna do it.

It's the law. My friends turned to me and they said, Brye, it's so cute how you think that everybody follows the laws. And that's when it hit me. I was like, that is at the heart. Of why so many of our policies, our procedures, our programs are not being followed exactly like we expect. So let's talk about what's going on out there and lemme give you a scenario.

So let's say that you're creating a new policy program, whatnot, or maybe you're changing one up, right? And if you do this the correct way, you get approval ahead of time, you take it to your EAC and they approve it ahead of time. And shameless plug here. If you don't have an EAC then you definitely need to join Safety Management Academy because having an executive advisory committee is one of the key [00:03:00] things that I make sure all of my students put in place, and it really helps with your management support and your employee engagement.

Just saying. Anyway, so you take it to your EAC, maybe you take it to your boss and you get approval for whatever that change or that new program is. Sometimes you just create it on your own and then you take it to your boss for approval, and then you put it out there, right? And you go, okay, new policy, here you go.

Or maybe. You don't have a choice. Maybe this is coming down to you from the corporate office or it's a new regulation and you go, well, gotta do it. 'cause corporate said to put it out there. The way that you're putting it out there is you're likely creating some trainings and you're training people on it, and you're likely sending out some emails and all of that.

Maybe you even explained why the change is coming, why you're putting out this new policy, or this new program, or why you're having to change things up. And maybe you even use the words like, well, corporate says we have to do [00:04:00] it, so we're doing it, or It's part of regulation, we have to do it. So after you put it out there like this, you sit back and you observe how well is this new policy program procedure being followed?

And this is when all of the aggravation and frustration in safety management ends up coming in. Because at this point, where are you typically sitting at? Are you sitting at like 50% of the time they're following it maybe 65% of the time. Heck, maybe even 75% of the time, but it still means 25% of the time they're not following it.

Right. Very rarely do I ever see this type of rollout actually working. And when people go, they create something, they get it approved, they put it out there, they, they train on it, they do emails about it. Very rarely do I see, like within a month everything has changed and many times what ends up happening is that when you do put it [00:05:00] out there and they start to make the change, a couple months later, the everything reverts back to their old ways and, and down the road the policy change just ends up collecting dust on the bookshelf.

And this right here opens you up to a ton of liability. Because not following your own policies and procedures is one of the biggest mistakes any company can make, both from a regulator standpoint and from a legal standpoint. If you have a policy, you really, really, really need to follow it. So let's talk about why this is happening and a few steps that you could take to prevent it.

And this story actually sounds like. It should have worked, right? Like many safety leaders chalk it up to like lack of support because they're like, this is a really good rollout plan. Get approval, train on it, send some emails. Measure success. Right? It sounds like a really good plan. I [00:06:00] think what it comes down to is human nature and understanding the way that most humans respond to change and lack a preparation for it when the decisions we make and

your workers make come from their own beliefs and their own thoughts, which then come from their own knowledge and their own experience. If you've put programs out there before and they weren't followed exactly, they will believe this will be the same, right? They'll go like, well, that's just safety.

Putting out a policy that nobody follows before. And I see this a lot when it's coming down from corporate. Like what I have found is that when corporate tells you to do something, It's just not taken as seriously as when like a local leader is telling you to do something. So if you're not following policies from the past, they're just gonna be like, well, this is another policy.

They're just not gonna follow. Or if they see others that are getting away with things and not following policy, [00:07:00] so there's no accountability, then they may choose not to follow this one either. And if they believe that there's a better way, or like the policy is stupid and that it's not really gonna work, or that it's gonna have the same outcomes as what you currently have, and that things aren't gonna change, then they're not gonna follow it.

And if the benefit is not personal to them and it's a company benefit. And they're likely gonna do it their own way. They're gonna keep doing their own thing. So a lot of times you're always talk about, you have to talk about the why of doing things, right. Well, the why has to be personal to your employees in order to get them to do things.

So let's get back to what my friends told me that day in the restaurant so many years ago, when they were talking about how people don't follow laws. And I bet that like already today, if you're listening to this later in the day, that you've already broken some laws today. You know, did you drive a car and speed any [00:08:00] amount over the speed limit?

It's technically breaking a law. Or did you talk on a cell phone while you were driving or did you eat something or drink something while you were driving? Do you always wear your seatbelt when the car is moving on a public road, or have you ever ridden your bike on the wrong side of the road, right, or cross the street and not used a crosswalk?

My point is, Is that there are minor infractions that we as a society have deemed like they shouldn't be enforced. And most of the time, unless something really bad happens, they're not enforced. So yes, you can get a speeding ticket, but how many times have you gone driving and we're speeding and not gotten a ticket?

But if you were speeding and an accident happens, you're sure as heck gonna get a ticket for it. Right? So it's like when something bad happens, they end up giving you that ticket. But if all of these minor infractions, you know, not crossing in a crosswalk or not always [00:09:00] wearing your seatbelt, or occasionally talking on your phone, on a cell phone, if they were constantly enforced, like the moment you did it, they were enforced.

We would all be thinking that we were living in this like super strict military state because we don't expect these to be hard rules. This is how many safety policies are enforced. We create a policy. Some people follow it, but if you weren't following it and you were injured, you're gonna definitely gonna get written up.

But if you weren't following it, eh, we might coach you on it. We might let you go. We might not even say anything. Right? So it's this combination of poorly written policies and a lack of accountability. That is causing the problem. Now, the other aspect of why policies are not followed is because the people involved were not part of the decision making process.

[00:10:00] They're being told what to do by somebody else outside of their work. And I don't mean like outside of their work as in like their company. I mean outside of like their little working area. When somebody who doesn't do their job is telling them what to do, it creates a little bit of friction. So the safety person creating the policy might not have ever done that job.

Maybe like I know when I start in the field, I like to do all of the jobs, but me doing a job for one day is not the same as doing the job for a long period of time and me telling somebody how to do it correctly. Or they aren't doing the job now. Like let's say that they used to be a truck driver and now they're a safety person, but they haven't driven a truck in many months or many years.

So they're not doing the job now. Or it's like management who aren't really given a choice and they're being told what to do. So I tell the supervisor, this is what you need to do, and the supervisor's like, Hey, [00:11:00] you gotta do it. 'cause safety says to do it. So nobody likes to be told what to do. No one, we're all adults.

We don't wanna like go back to childhood to when we never had a choice of what we did. So you always have to think about it. It's like, yes, I am in a workplace and I do have policies and procedures I need to follow, but at the same time, I don't wanna be told what to do. So we get those choices and this can also be related to like incarceration, right?

Like when you're incarcerated, all of your rights are taken away. So you don't wanna treat your work like a jail situation or this strict military type of situation where it's like, no, you have to do it 'cause it's policy. So the thing is, you have to make sure that they are part of the decision making process, and then being part of that process changes their mind about, it's not being told what to do.

I kind of agree like, yeah, we need to do that. So when they're involved in that process, when their [00:12:00] voice is heard, it's not being told what to do instead. It's like a consensus. This is how we do business. This is what we do. So even if you have one or two people that are like, disagree with the policy, when the main group is like, there's a consensus, this is what we should do, it makes it a lot easier.

So let me give you an example. So let's say that instead of creating a program, because the regulation says that you need to create the program, take the issue to your team instead like, okay, this is required for us to do by regulation because it can cause some serious injuries and it has caused serious injuries at other companies similar to ours.

So you present the problem to them and you go, this is the problem that other companies were seeing that caused these injuries. How do you think we should fix it? So you get their input on how to fix it, and this could be input to create a program or [00:13:00] procedure. That will meet the regulation. You could say like, Hey, the regulation says we have to do this.

Can I get your input on what we should put in this program to make sure that we're meeting this regulation? Or it could be their input to solve a high accident problem. So let's say that you're looking at your data and your data is showing a spike in strain and sprain injuries. So you go to your people and you go, Hey, we've seen a lot of strain and sprain injuries.

Here's the information. How do you think that we should fix it? Instead of you creating that policy or procedure, you work with them back and forth between employees and management and yourself and as many people as you can that are directly affected by whatever this change is gonna be. And then once it gets all hashed out between that group, that's when you take it to your EAC.

That's when you get approval for it. So that way you're bringing a program, not one that you created, [00:14:00] one that was created through consensus. So that way when the change is rolled out, once the EAC C'S approved it, and now you've done your training and your emails and all that good stuff, the people that are involved and creating it, they can also be involved in that training and share how that decision was made.

So you end up getting better policy compliance, I guess you could say is a good word. You get a lot more people following the policy because of the fact that they were involved in the decision making process. So lastly, as you're creating this new program, don't add in requirements into the program that you know, won't be enforced.

So like let's say that within the program you have some requirements like wear a specific PPE and you know, nobody's gonna enforce that. Don't put it in your policy, 'cause [00:15:00] remember it is like one of the biggest mistakes if you're not following your own policy. So instead you create recommendations.

You go, here's our policy that you need to protect yourself against hazards. We recommend to protect yourself against hazards that you wear this specific PPE. What that does is it creates a little bit of wiggle room in your enforcement. 'cause remember, if your people are seeing that policies in the past are not being enforced.

And you're not enforcing this one, they are less likely to follow it. So how can you increase enforcement? It's making sure that you don't have any of those minor infractions within your policy. Keeping your policy very broad and very vague so that way it meets regulations, it protects people, but it gives you wiggle room on that enforcement.

So the things that you know are definitely gonna be enforced. So let's say, horse playing, right? Like if people are playing rodeos and throwing people around on [00:16:00] the forklifts, like that's an easy one. You know, you're gonna enforce that. But if you're not always gonna enforce the right PPE or any little safety policies within that forklift, then don't put that in your policy unless it has to be there for regulations.

And it just prevents that little thing of like, Ooh, it's my policy, but I'm not following it. Now, of course there's always gonna be some things that are required by regulation that have to be in there. You know, like one of the issues that I always struggled with was them leaving the keys in the forklifts.

But that's a regulation. It's gotta be in there. They have to remove the key, right? But enforcement of it was really difficult 'cause people were busy and they wouldn't see it. And I think I had a bunch of keyless forklifts too. So anyway, so make sure, like we know that some things have to be in there by law, but the things that don't have to be there and by law, then look at it as like, will we actually enforce this?

And if not, put it more as a recommendation then as a policy. And then the exception would also be like [00:17:00] your incident rate. So if you have a really high incident rate regarding this policy, then those recommendations, like you might start them out as a recommendation, but they might graduate to actually being policy because of the fact that.

You have to justify the fact that like you have all of these injuries, you have to be doing something about it. Because like, let's say that you had a whole bunch of broken toes at your facility and then OSHA comes in and they see that you don't require steel toed shoes, but you're recommending it. They would be like, that's a disconnect.

Your, your data is showing that you need to do something and you're not protecting your workers by making this a requirement. So you have to look at it that way too, is like your incident rate can sometimes dictate what your policy is gonna be. So I hope that you walk away from today's episode with some ideas on a better way to approach your policy compliance.

Know that if you build it, they're not always gonna follow it, right? James Earl Jones and Field of Dreams just [00:18:00] doesn't happen in safety. Like they're lying. If you build it, they will come. No. If you build it, they are not always gonna follow it, but instead of blaming them for not following it and saying, Hey, you got injured 'cause you weren't following policy.

Look at ways that you can change your own approach to improve compliance. Be very strategic in your processes and use collaboration, but don't make your policies too restrictive. That's key. And be sure to express why it's important to them personally to follow the policy, not why, you know, no one's ever gonna follow a policy 'cause corporate said to do it, or regulations say to do it, or the company VP says to do it.

They'll follow policies because they have a vested interest on the results of that policy, those results being keeping them safe, or because they were part of that decision as well. So I hope you got a lot out of this. I look forward to hearing your [00:19:00] feedback and I hope that you have a safe day. Bye for now.

Highlights From This Episode:

  • The Myth of Policy Compliance: Exploring a Common Misconception in Safety Management
  • Personal Experience: Recognizing Our Own Assumptions About Policy Adherence
  • The Role of Human Nature: Understanding How People Respond to Change
  • The Impact of Decision-Making: Why Involving Employees Matters
  • The Power of Consensus: Engaging Employees in Creating Effective Policies
  • Making Policies Effective: How Personalizing the “Why” Enhances Compliance
  • Strategic Policy Design: Creating Flexible and Enforceable Policies for Safety

Links Mentioned:


I hope you learn some ideas on a better approach to policy compliance. Know that if you build it – they won’t always follow it. But instead of blaming them, looks at changes you can make to improve compliance.

Be strategic in your safety processes. Use collaboration, don’t make policies too restrictive, and be sure to express why it’s important to them personally.

Share your thoughts about this episode in the comment below. I love to hear all of it. And don’t forget to share this insightful blog post with your safety friends.

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Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)!  I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience.  Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world.   I would love to help you too.

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