Knowing When to Break the Rules

Knowing When to Break the Rules

imageThe problem with blind compliance is that it makes people co-dependent on systems designed off the job, in abstract formulation, according some other person’s interpretation of risk that sits in a cupboard and is out of date by the time the drawer of the filing cabinet is shut.

Unless a risk assessment is a lived experience, a participative experience and an owned experience its all pretty much academic. It’s so easy to just Tick n’ Flick – Set n’ Forget (

One of the critical skills one learns in SPoR is in-time engagement in what is called ‘iCue Listening’. It takes about 5 weeks to learn the skills of iCue Listening process (; ) but once embodied you will never go back to the alienating model of risk assessment that doesn’t work.

We are currently in our third group undertaking the free online module Introduction to SPoR ( and all testify to the criticality of learning such skills. You can read a few testimonies from people have done the module here:

The fourth intake starts in November.

One of the challenges of compliance thinking and checklist thinking is knowing when to break the rules, when NOT to follow procedures. We know from many disasters and critical incidents that it is often the people who can think critically in a crisis, who don’t follow the rules – live. The Grenfell Tower is a good example ( ).

Some of the best skills one can acquire to keep safe in risk and safety are: adaptability, Bricolage (Weick), critical thinking, in-time risk assessment, imagination, creativity, ingenuity, recognizing heuristics, discovery learning and critical reflection. All of these skills are contained in iCue Listening skill development.

Of course, none of this is discussed in the AIHS BoK on Ethics nor in the safety curriculum. The diet in these risk and safety traditions is: obey, duty, law, regulation and compliance, follow the checklist, do as you’re told and don’t deviate from the rule, punishment is coming. There is simply no skill development about in risk and safety that teaches people when to break the rules or how to break them. It’s a delicate balance that rarely gets discussed.

We need to always be able to ‘entertain doubt’ in the moment and know how to risk assess in real time and have the skills and disposition in how to do it. Such a disposition should be cultivated and discussed as a part of any safety process and permission to break rules when deemed safe to do so should be on the agenda. Unfortunately, the locked in concrete ‘cardinal rules’. ‘life saving rules’ and ‘ten commandments’ Mentalitie that is fostered in the industry mitigates against this.

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