The paper reviews the literature from 1986 on the management of those safety rules and procedures which relate to the workplace level in organisations. It contrasts two different paradigms of how rules and their development and use are perceived and managed. The first is a top-down classical, rational approach in which rules are seen as static, comprehensive limits of freedom of choice, imposed on operators at the sharp end and violations are seen as negative behaviour to be suppressed. The second is a bottom-up constructivist view of rules as dynamic, local, situated constructions of operators as experts, where competence is seen to a great extent as the ability to adapt rules to the diversity of reality. The paper explores the research underlying and illustrating these two paradigms, drawn from psychology, sociology and ethnography, organisational studies and behavioural economics. In a separate paper following on from this review (Hale and Borys, this issue) the authors propose a framework of rule management which attempts to draw the lessons from both paradigms. It places the monitoring and adaptation of rules central to its management process.
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