Why are we becoming so Prescriptive?

Have you ever wondered why our governments and employers are becoming ever increasingly prescriptive in telling us exactly what and how we have to do things? This prescriptiveness is not just in Health and Safety but right across our entire lives, it is in almost everything we do. While there are some things which need to be stated precisely;  the trend in recent years is to impose this process across more and more of our personal and work activities and in doing so it is removing the responsibility and accountability away from the person undertaking the task.

We no longer have the ability, as individuals or workers, to make an informed choice based on assessment of the facts and situational circumstances. We are told, via legislation and/or employer procedures that we must do exactly as laid down in the system or face penalties.

So why are we becoming more prescriptive? I believe that authorities (government and employers) have been pushed by various groups to break everything down to the lowest common denominator, thereby ensuring that all persons are equal. While this basic concept sounds righteous and good, what it is actually achieving is to “dumb down” society. When we are told when and how to do the simplest of tasks we are removing the individual’s desire to think for themself, as it has already been laid-out in detail, and therefore may expose them to risks that have not been considered by the authority who developed the process. Imposing this style of control, limits the ability and opportunity for improvement. It also provides no encouragement for individuals to “exceed” as there is limited or no reward for doing anything other than “follow the rules”, the end result being; we all eventually slide to become equal with the “lowest common denominator”. This process will not happen “overnight” but it will happen over a period of time, why try and excel when we are going to be treated and rewarded the same as the person who just “sits around”.

We have heard many times by various governments that they want us to be a “smart nation” but they then remove the desire by individuals to “think” by enforcing very descriptive regulations. We will become a nation of “followers” and maybe this is what our authorities (government and employers) want. It makes it a lot easier for them to control people who do not think for themselves.

While I am not against the use of prescriptive measures, as there are times and places where this is definitely required –ie: speed limits, I would like to see a more receptive environment whereby the structure of the desired control is outlined and the actual implementation is left to the individual or group of workers to assess and take responsibility and accountability for their actions. We have standards for how to assess risk and we should be encouraged to use these instead of the authorities telling us “how to do it”.

Yes we have all heard the cries: “It is not my fault, I was only doing as I was told” or “They never trained me to do that”. These cries will only get more frequent and louder if we continue to be too prescriptive.

It is time for individuals to stand up and take responsibility for their own actions and not just follow.