By Eric Smith
Workplace safety is paramount for any company, but too many business owners don’t know the difference between a policy and a rule, which can have dire consequences – even a severed foot – according to Nancy M. Combs.
“Those who supervise must be trained, even when they have worked in a similar position at another company,” Combs says. “Specifically, they must be trained to know the difference between a policy and a rule. Not doing so results in inconsistent management, negligence and discrimination.”
Combs shared a story of a warehouse worker who continued driving a forklift, despite not being trained on the equipment, against his supervisor’s orders. The worker later crashed and lost his foot in the accident – which could have been prevented if the company had created rules instead of just guidelines for warehouse behavior.
As Combs points out, a policy is a general guideline. In business, it is a formal statement of how the leadership expects to manage the company. With regard to safety, for example, a policy might say: “We expect workers to perform all work in a safety manner and to follow all safety procedures.”
On the other hand, a rule is a statement of boundaries with consequences, Combs says. With regard to safety, the rule may say: “Employees who engage in unsafe behaviour that could lead to injury or death will be terminated.” If this rule had been enforced, the employee in the forklift accident would have been fired on his first offense, but he would still have a foot.
“If everyone understands that any violation requires management to act, there will likely be fewer rules that need to be established,” Combs writes. “Every member of management must agree they will enforce the rules uniformly. They must also agree that they will remain united and be consistent with whatever discipline is required.”