Brain Based Safety


Since the times of Adam and Eve our relationship with rules hasn’t been easy. In the garden of Eden, Adam & Eve had to adhere to only one rule. They were not allowed to pick fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Sticking to that one rule already was quite a problem for them. As a result of trespassing this rule, they were abandoned to earth and became mortal. Ever since then, our relationship with rules is full of ambivalence. On the one hand we see rules as a support and a panacea for all kinds of safety problems, but on the other hand we groan under the yoke of so many regulations. In this piece I want to explore the dark side of the rules and to share what can help us in order to reduce the burden of regulations.


A rule is a rule behavior intended to guide behavior in the right direction. So we can work safely without knowing the ins and outs of the job. Thanks rules we hope that the least competent employee can safely perform his job anyway. In the eyes of the experienced performer rules often have a simplistic and time consuming image. Compliance takes more time and energy than is strictly necessary and under external pressure, we therefore propose a rule for discussion.


Promulgating a rule has consequences for the responsibility of behavior. Whoever enacts a rule, is also responsible for compliance with that rule. If you have your child imposes a rule, for example at a certain time at home, then such a rule only makes sense if you respond in the event that the rule is not observed. Is an offense (blind eye) allowed, then the rule immediately loses its value. One rule only acquires meaning by virtue of enforcing compliance. Entering a rule implies shifting the responsibility of the employee to the manager.

Assumption 1: understanding leads to behavior

When operating several assumptions are made in lines that do not correspond with reality. The first is that knowledge leads to behavior. If the behavior does not comply with the rule, then the knowledge is often not seen as insufficient (“they do not understand it yet”) and an explanation seems the most efficient method. Recent neuropsychological findings do not support this assumption. For a new novel behavior, which we do not have behavior patterns, a new rule may indeed be a handhold. However, when it comes to existing behavior, play unconscious motives and patterns already automated a dominant role. An insight is subordinate. Rules have little impact on existing behavior.

Assumption 2: depart is a deliberate action

A second assumption is that different from a rule always a conscious and thus sought violation. In this assumption, the role of the human will as a central determinant of behavior. Brain research shows that what we call the will, not the cause, but rather the result of chains of unconscious brain processes. The unconscious puts people to action, while man believes himself in a conscious way to have called action. Man shut himself excessive self-conscious, and structurally underestimated the impact of his instincts and of the environment on his behavior.

Assumption 3: each employee knows the rules

We produce for 50 years at a rate significantly rules. Many organizations are long past the point that there is still an employee who knows all the rules of his own field. The Dutch constitution begins with the proposition that every Dutchman should know the law. This is called the “legal fiction” because no one is able to do so. Analogous to this concept, we could argue that organizations lead to “rule fiction,” the mistaken assumption that every employee knows all the rules. Yet we continue to repeatedly create new rules. For example, each incident investigation leads to tightening or renewal of rules. It seems that we no longer know how we can ensure our security in a different way.

Alienate rules

Behavior is a soft theme and a rule is a hard way to regulate that. A LMRAs can be seen as a soft instrument, because it is intended to enhance the sensitivity to risk. By requiring employees to fill out a ticket before they can start work, the LMRA becomes a hard instrument. This gives rise to behaviors that are contrary to the intention of the instrument. People go for example pre-fill all the card so they can get started quickly. The moral of the story: rules could backfire because they alienate man from the original intent of the rule.

The unexpected

Rules give an answer to the handling of expected risks. Now unsafe situations often result from an unexpected coincidence. At such time, the independent judgment of the practitioner is crucial. Who must be able to respond flexibly to imminent dangers. We call this resilience. The judgment that is necessary for this develops as an employee freely experiment. Freedom of movement is therefore a good preparation for unexpected risks.


The question remains as to be needed before we can rely on the self of ourselves and others. History teaches us that we have inherited a good safety of our ancestors. Without this system we were not there now. The system is programmed, however, the dangers of 10,000 years ago and must first get an update about the dangers of our time. Thanks to a good induction program we learn to recognize the main risks. Moreover, we need to learn what to do when there is such a risk. Training can help to develop a behavioral repertoire that helps to neutralize threats. Once we have sufficient risk recognition and skills to deal with anomalies, we need a lot less rules.


Are we there? Unfortunately, we must still deal with our overconfidence. Also associated with the legacies of the distant past. People are more effective if they dare, but thereby also make more mistakes. Because of the dangers of this age are so much bigger, we must be cautious. The biggest problem in this is that our self is not usually true. At least 80% of all men find themselves belong to the 50% safest drivers on the road. Almost everyone finds themselves a better driver. Therefore, we must in fact always a margin, build a safety buffer, even though we think we do not need.

Paradise on Earth

Rules have put our security at a much higher level, but we passed it. Therefore they begin to turn against us. It fits into a liberal Dutch culture itself more to be at the helm of our lives. For that we need to be armed with a good risk detection and behavioral repertoire that can ward off dangers. If we then also our hubris may limit, we can navigate independently and from inside a safe course. Then we utilize the knowledge of good and evil in the way they were originally intended.

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