Safety Culture and Behavioral Safety

Safety Incentives: Yea? Or Nay? Yea!

Are safety incentive programs right for your organization? Today we’ll look at the case for safety incentives; tomorrow we’ll look at the case against.

The value of incentive programs has been hotly debated in the safety community. Advocates say they help employees stay focused on avoiding hazards. Opponents say such programs are a poor substitute for good safety management and only encourage employees to underreport injuries.

The twice-monthly OSHA Compliance Advisor analyzed both sides of the issue. Here are some of the newsletter’s findings.

Incentive Insights

Safety-incentive programs take diverse forms. One industrial firm invited all workers who did not report a job injury or illness to an annual banquet. The firm selected the name of one attendee, and that person received a check for $10,000! At a construction worksite, a pool of money is divided among the contractors’ workers who do not report injuries.

At other workplaces, incentives deemphasize cash prizes in favor of more symbolic tokens such as a pizza lunch for team members who work 6 months without recordable injuries, time off for safe work, or fun trinkets or award points that can be traded for merchandise at popular stores and restaurants.

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Ron Prichard, president of Arcanum Professional Services of Indianapolis, says that four conditions must be in place before a safety-incentive program should even be considered. They are:

  • A complete, properly functioning safety program. Noting that incentive programs are no substitute for strong safety management, Prichard says employees cannot improve performance unless they are properly trained and know how to find and fix hazards.
  • A review of safety performance. If accidents are high, corrections must be made before an incentive program is introduced. Otherwise, injuries will continue because root causes have not been addressed, according to Prichard.
  • Management support and involvement. If company leaders do not believe in the incentive program, neither will employees.
  • A structured approach. An incentive program must be well structured, with goals that are clearly defined and easily measured. Rewards must be tailored to fit the workforce and must have value for the employees, not for those who develop the program.

Prichard points to two other requirements for an incentive program—active involvement by employees and effective program management—which involves everything from reporting and measuring performance to maintaining records and awarding prizes.

The Case FOR Safety Incentives

Using some type of “carrot” to encourage employees to choose safe behaviors over unsafe ones is an appropriate strategy, say those who favor incentives. They maintain that such programs are a way for management to show its concern for workers. And they believe the increased awareness that results can contribute to long-term behavior change and fewer accidents.

Seth Marshall is president of Safety Pays, a company he founded in the early 1990s. He said his challenge was to reach people who find safety messages dry, and those who already consider themselves safe workers.

Marshall took an off-the-shelf safety-bingo and kicked it up several notches. His goal was to entertain workers and keep them engaged while communicating essential safety messages and best practices. It’s a matter, he says, “of selling safety, integrating it into daily consciousness, and making employees feel a sense of ownership over what occurs in the workplace.”

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The mechanics of Safety Pays are relatively simple. The bingo-style game is usually played by a relatively small number of people—by a work group, team, or division.

At the start of a round, employees are given a bingo card, and one number is called per day. The jackpot is set at $25 at the beginning of each new game. The prize increases by $1 a day until there is a winner.

Then, the next game starts with the jackpot starting at the amount at which the last game ended. The prize increases up to a limit preestablished by management. However, if an incident (which is defined by the company using the game) occurs, the jackpot reverts to $25.

“What’s going on here is that every day there’s a reason to think about safety because employees know they’ll be going to the bingo board,” Marshall said. The board not only reveals the day’s number, but is located near an attractive display that features safety advisories on selected topics and other information.

And it’s working big-time, said Marshall. The approximately 10,000 companies that have used Safety Pays have seen loss reductions of 50 percent according to metrics such as injuries, dollars, and claims frequency.

As for the criticism that incentive programs encourage employees to “bury” incidents, Marshall said he’s never seen it in the businesses he serves, in part because the system guards against the practice. When employees sign in for a new card, they also sign a statement that says they have not experienced an incident during the previous game round.

In tomorrow’s Advisor, we’ll look at the case against safety incentives.