Life Saving Rules: a step or a growing process towards Zero Incidents?

A few years ago Shell wondered how it was possible that the reduction of the amount of minor and near incidents did not cause a reduction in the number of serious incidents. For this purpose, they investigated fatal incidents in the period between1995 and 2006 and identified behaviours that led to the failure of the last incident barrier prior to a fatality. In 2009 following this research, Shell composed the 12 Life Saving Rules that were charged with the prevention of the most frequently occurring situations prior to a fatal incident. Also other HSE ambitious organisations chose the principle of Life Saving and the Golden Rules to improve their HSE performance.

Operation related
If we look at the most frequently used Life Saving Rules that are directly related to the daily operations of the plant, then they are often the following:

Work with a valid work permit when required. Conduct gas tests when required. Verify isolation before work begins and use the specified protective equipment. Obtain authorisation before entering a confined space. Obtain authorization before disabling or overriding safety critical equipment. Protect yourself against falling when working at height. Do not walk under a suspended load.

Life saving rules and key HSE processes
The introduction of the Life Saving Rules led to a further reduction in the number of fatal incidents in the industry yet there are still incidents related to these rules.

In this regard, organisations can get more results from the Life Saving Rules programmes through their key HSE processes:

  • Permit to work,
  • Lockout/Tagout/Tryout
  • Production Information or Shift Handover
  • Management of Change
  • Incident management

This overview demonstrates how the Life Saving Rules are related to these processes. Take rule 3: " Verify isolation before work begins and use the specified protective equipment." This rule indicates the importance of creating a safe place to work, but is also closely related to the permit to work process. The measures are indicated on the work permit and a work permit should only be issued when a situation is reported as secured. For production it is important to be aware of the status of the installation before, during and after the isolation.

Learn from the industry
Over the years as a company you gather a great deal of knowledge and experience about these HSE processes in your own organization. But if you look at it industry wide, then the experience is much broader. Even if an internal best practice is implemented strictly within the organisation, there are many situations that you as a company have not experienced yet, which carry risks. After a day without incidents the fear of many HSE Managers is the question of which pointers he or she has missed. By supporting the Life Saving Rules with industry best practices, you are using a much broader range of experience. Risky situations that have occurred in other organisations and that were analysed, have been implemented here. Therefore, as an organisation, there is no need to experience and analyse every (near) incident yourself before you can bring your work process to a higher level.

Make it easy for people
Strict adherence to rules, that is what you strive for as an organisation. The culture therefore remains a permanent focus point. But when processes are not organised efficiently, people have the tendency to create their own efficiency, also referred to as skirting the rules. And this is the basis for risky situations.

The less effort people have to put into strict adherence, the better they will follow procedures and agreements. By simplifying processes and systems, you make it easier for people to follow the procedure.

As for the above example: Verifying an isolation is part of the Life Saving Rules. A system can enforce that a work permit can only be issued when an isolation is concluded.

By recording agreements, rules, deviations and procedures within a system, you ensure that employees do not always have to think about a decision or situation. They can remain focused to look and think further when it comes to safety.

Rapid integration in all plants
Outcomes of incident analyses lead to conclusions on the how and why of certain events. From now on they can be prevented by improvements at a technical or systemic level in the work method, or by using practical protective equipment. In the case of the last two, and to a lesser degree also in the first two, it is important to ensure that those improvements are done quickly; in the plant where the incident took place, but also in all other departments on site, within the business unit, within the entire organisation. This can be done quickly with a centralised system and those involved are immediately informed as to the lessons learned.

By supporting and safeguarding Life Saving Rules in best practise HSE-processes and systems, it becomes easier to integrate and share findings and experiences. It helps organisations to bring their overall safety ratios to that next level.



According to the theory of Heinrich (1935), there is a fixed relationship between near incidents, incidents with light injury and serious incidents and fatalities, or SIF. That a reduction of near misses and lost time incidents logically leads to a reduction of the number of SIFs, was a broadly supported logic. The fact that, despite all efforts, the number of SIFs remain the same or even increases slightly in the industry, in spite of all efforts, remains a concern. In this respect, we would like to refer to a video by BST: 

New Paradigms in Serious Injuries and Fatalities