Special Topics in Safety Management

Controversy Continues Over Safety Incentive Programs

“While OSHA appreciates employers using safety as a key management metric, we cannot condone a program that encourages discrimination against workers who report injures,” says OSHA.

In a memorandum for staff, OSHA has detailed its policies regarding employer practices that can discourage employee reports of injuries, which violates the OSH Act.
 
The memo was written by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor Richard E. Fairfax, who stated, "If employees do not feel free to report injuries or illnesses, the employer’s entire workforce is put at risk. Employers do not learn of and correct dangerous conditions that have resulted in injuries, and injured employees may not receive the proper medical attention, or the workers’ compensation benefits to which they are entitled."

Fairfax described several practices that could discourage reporting, adding that the potential for discrimination may increase when supervisor bonuses are linked to lower reported rates. Among them:

  • Employers that take disciplinary action against employees injured on the job regardless of the circumstances surrounding the injury;
  • An employee disciplined for reporting, with the stated reason being a violation of a rule about the time or manner for reporting injuries and illnesses;

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  • An employee disciplined for reporting an injury on the grounds that the injury resulted from the violation of a safety rule by the employee; and
  • Programs that unintentionally or intentionally provide employees an incentive to not report injuries.

Under the law, employers may not "in any manner discriminate" against employees because they exercise a protected right, such as the right to report an injury, the memo says.

A Better Approach?

The OSHA memo goes on to say: "Some employers establish programs that unintentionally or intentionally provide employees an incentive to not report injuries. For example, an employer might enter all employees who have not been injured in the previous year in a drawing to win a prize, or a team of employees might be awarded a bonus if no one from the team is injured over some period of time.

"Such programs might be well-intentioned efforts by employers to encourage their workers to use safe practices. However, there are better ways to encourage safe work practices, such as incentives that promote worker participation in safety-related activities, such as identifying hazards or participating in investigations of injuries, incidents or ‘near misses.’


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"OSHA’s VPP guidance materials refer to a number of positive incentives, including providing tee shirts to workers serving on safety and health committees; offering modest rewards for suggesting ways to strengthen safety and health; or throwing a recognition party at the successful completion of company-wide safety and health training."

Tomorrow, we’ll report on the findings of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on workplace safety incentive programs.

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