Thought Leadership


Cardinal rules – Influencing noncompliance

April 8, 2014
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Originally posted on Caterpillar Safety Service’s Safety Culture WORLD blog http://safetycultureworld.blogspot.com/and reposted here with Caterpillar’s permission.

Our personal risk tolerance is directly influenced by the severity of the outcome.

If there is a high cost associated with a risk, we are more prone to comply with the rules set in place.

While writing this post, I am reminded of today’s airline industry. It is not uncommon for travelers to experience a delay in their flight due to a maintenance issue. While this is a frustrating circumstance for the traveler, the cost of noncompliance for the airline is too high to take chances. Even small risks in this industry are not tolerated, and the airline must follow protocol to address the issue.

trafficOn the opposite end of the spectrum is noncompliance. While living near Boston, I experienced noncompliance first-hand on the expressways. I vividly remember our insurance agent handing me a copy of the book “Wild in the Streets, a guide to survival while driving in Boston.”  While there are adequate rules of the road, in this instance, they were neither followed nor enforced to a significant degree. As a result, the insurance agent was quick to educate both me and my family on the common risks that we would encounter on the expressway.

It is common for high-risk issues to be addressed by policies and procedures known as cardinal rules. Due to the severity of the outcome, there is often little tolerance for noncompliance to cardinal rules at any level of the organization. Some examples of cardinal rules are:

  • Lock Out - Tag Out associated with large multi-stand metal rolling mill operations and maintenance
  • Confined space work associated with the chemical process industries
  • Fall protection utilization on aerial work platforms in the construction industry
  • Substance abuse in oil field drilling operations
  • Family members texting while driving

Our personal risk tolerance is significantly reduced when cardinal rules are put in place. They help increase awareness on the severity of the risk associated with a task or process.

Do you have cardinal rules both on and off the job? What are they?

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