Why most employees will ignore your new safety instructions (and how to change this)

Why most employees will ignore your new safety instructions (and how to change this)

Have you ever implemented a new set of safety measures on your worksite, then realised that the very workers you’re trying to look out for are opposed to, or at least unsure about them?

Even in high-risk industries such as construction, where strict safety measures on construction sites can help prevent thousands of injuries every year, it’s common for new safety measures to be met with resistance.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, new safety measures and instructions are often  perceived as additional red tape or mere box-ticking rather than the crucial, potentially life-saving measures they are. Over time, these safety changes may be ignored, especially on smaller, non-supervised tasks where workers feel they won’t be held accountable – risking a real disaster should things go wrong further down the track.

The first step to preventing this resistance to safety improvements is to understand the causes behind it and how to alleviate them, so that your new safety improvements are set for success from day one.

3 reasons why your team is resisting your new safety instructions

Generally speaking, people tend to resist change. Even when changes make work easier, some people cling to familiarity. It’s no surprise that there may be hesitation when it comes to new safety instructions, which can mean processes may be more difficult or take a little longer than usual.

1. Sudden implementation

Surprise and fear of the unknown can be major contributors to employee rejection of new changes, even regarding something as crucial – and in their interests – as workplace safety.

Many people don’t adapt to change well, particularly for decisions and changes that are imposed suddenly, with no lead time to get used to the idea or prepare for its consequences. A gradual approach, paired with in-depth training for major changes, can help alleviate these concerns.

2. Connection to the old way

Sometimes new safety improvements are met with resistance simply because people are too attached to their current system.

As a result those who are strongly invested in the old way of doing things may unconsciously interpret their replacement as a personal affront. Long-term employees who’ve been doing things one way for years may initially find it difficult to adapt.

The key to combatting this type of resistance is clearly explaining the rationale behind each component of the new instructions and why they’re superior to current processes, while listening closely to any concerns.

3. Communication issues

On the other hand, sometimes when new safety measures are resisted the problem lies in the way changes are brought about rather than the change itself.

A lack of clear communication about how new safety instructions will affect and benefit the team can lead to the perception that it’s just ‘change for change’s sake’. To combat this, address any unspoken unease workers may have about the fact they weren’t consulted, and fears they may lose some of their autonomy.

How to get your team to accept these new safety instructions

More consultation

Before developing health and safety procedures and bringing in new safety instructions, it’s advisable to consult with team members to find out about safety matters that affect them in their day-to-day work. Flag upcoming changes with your team in advance and ask for their input – and truly listen. Think carefully about any concerns or fears they raise, and how you can take these onboard.

These initial insights and ideas could make a huge difference to not only their later acceptance (or non-acceptance) of new instructions but also the safety improvements themselves. The act of involving them in the decision-making process can help make them feel more comfortable with subsequent changes.

Plan a gradual roll-out

To ensure your team doesn’t feel like the new safety instructions have ‘come out of nowhere’, it’s important to plan in advance how you can implement each change – and whether this should be a slow, gradual process over time.

Of course, whether you opt to take it slowly and steadily or do a massive overhaul in one hit depends on your team’s preferences and work style. But whichever way you go, carefully planning how to tackle any issues prior to implementation can save lots of time and headaches down the track.

Anticipate the reaction

Immediately before the new safety instructions are brought in, set aside some time to consider how individual team members may respond to the changes, and why they may act that way. Think of ways you can empathise with and rebut their reasoning as part of your change strategy.

Clear explanation

Prevent any miscommunication issues by clearly explaining the reasoning behind every change, why it benefits your team and how it will help keep them safe. Remember that this isn’t a lecture, but a conversation; open the floor to questions and concerns, listen deeply, and be prepared for responses and critiques, even from junior staff. There’s no surer way to build trust than by proving that you value their input – particularly on an issue as crucial as safety. 

Show safety leadership

In George Robotham’s list of how to win the hearts and minds of workers in relation to safety, the number one action he identified was to lead by example. Credibility, trust and leadership are crucial factors for successfully implementing any new changes in the workplace.

When managers are involved in safety meetings, audits, inspections and accident investigation, as George Robotham recommends, they must prove that they expect safety to be taken seriously.

If your commitment to safety and your team’s well-being is clearly 100% genuine, workers are more likely to prioritise these factors too and be onboard for any changes.


Clear communication, early consultation, careful planning and an action-based commitment to work safety from the top down is the surest way to get your team onboard with new safety instructions. This extra consideration will ensure safety improvements are not only complied with, but fully embraced, for a safer, better workplace for all.

About The Author:

Dane Latham, Office Manager -  Latham Australia

Dane is Latham’s trusty Office Manager. For more than 20 years he’s been looking after all things finance, HR, marketing and IT here. As an avid supporter of Australian made and owned products, Dane is most proud of the role that Latham’s premium grade products play in such iconic Australian buildings as the Sydney Opera House and the MCG, as well as internationally, including the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia

Dane’s photo: Here

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