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Safety Incentive Programs – Pros and Cons

Julie Copeland

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Safety Incentive ProgramsWill a Safety Incentive Program motivate employee safety?

Proponents for Safety Incentive Programs believe that incentives are an essential tool for any organization, regardless of size or industry, in promoting workplace safety. Incentives build and maintain employee interest in working safely and act as a motivator for employees to work safer.

  • Incentives increase safety awareness.
  • Safety becomes more interesting.
  • Employees value recognition; it shows that management is paying attention.
  • Incentives can also produce positive results if you incorporate them into a program that requires some type of safety activity to make the person or group eligible for the prize, such as doing safety observations or near-miss reports.
  • Incentives are a good public relations tool for the safety department or safety committee.

Opponents for Safety Incentive Programs believe that safety incentives are to be avoided at all costs. This viewpoint holds that incentives reward the wrong behavior, and can contribute to under-reporting of incidents rather than reducing incidents.

  • Incentives may influence people to hide injuries in order to get the prize.
  • The prizes have to get better as time goes along.
  • The person who ruins the safety record may get ostracized by co-workers for blowing it.
  • Administering the incentive program requires a lot of time from safety department personnel

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) takes the position that “Traditional Incentive Programs” that link rewards to injury reduction ‘can provide an inducement for workers to under-report injuries and illnesses’.  Although OSHA does not currently have any regulations specifically addressing Safety Incentive Programs, these programs have been a serious focus for OSHA Director, David Michaels.

The truth of the matter is that “implemented properly”, well thought out Safety Incentive Programs do work.  The program must fit the goals and objectives of your company and should involve your employees in both the development and implementation. A program designed by and for the employees in conjunction with a well thought out Safety Program, can help motivate your employees to be safe.

5 steps to an Effective Safety Incentive Program

  1. Have a complete functioning safety program in place:  Employees cannot improve on performance when they aren’t aware of what is expected of them and haven’t been trained on how to do their job using correct safety procedures.  Without a safety program ensuring proper training, incentives will most likely lead to under-reporting rather than to safety excellence.
  2. Examine safety performance:  If the number of accidents is higher than expected, your safety program is in need of attention. You should examine and correct the program’s downfalls before implementing an incentive program.  Without addressing the root causes of the program failure, you will continue to experience the same accident rate even with an incentive program.
  3. Management Buy-in and Participation: If managers don’t believe and stand by the safety incentive program, neither will your employees.  Employees must believe that management will administer the program fairly, and that a real chance exists for achieving the promised rewards for following proper safety procedures. 
  4. Structure the incentive program: Set realistic, clearly defined and measurable goals.  Don’t set your goals so high that your employees will fail and discourage participation.  Goals that are set too low however, will not offer any incentive to the employee to change behaviors. In order to ensure employees are motivated, rewards should be tailored to fit the workforce and not the management.  Gift certificates or paid-time off are often very powerful motivators under the right circumstances.  Employees must take an active role in the development and management of the program. Employees must buy-into how the program is run and maintained including deciding how records will be kept, the methods of performance measurement, reporting and monitoring, and how rewards are provided.  The workers must view all the elements as being fair in order for them to take the program seriously.
  5. Ensure effective communication about the program as it is implemented. Workers need to understand why the program is being implemented, the rules, how it works, and how progress is measured. They need to be continually reminded about the incentive program, the reasons for it, and how they are doing. They need to see management involvement and support, through active participation and coaching.

Suggestions for implementing an Effective Safety Incentive Program

Safety Bucks:  Identify Safety practices that are to be rewarded and decide in advance the Safety Buck Value of each practice.  Examples: Safety Suggestions – 10; Hazard recognition and/or near miss report – 5; Attending safety-related training (such as CPR, accident investigation, harassment, violence, etc…) – 25; Writing job safety analyses (JSA) – 50; Answering questions correctly at departmental safety meetings – 5, etc. Employees are handed their Safety Bucks immediately.  Each quarter (don’t wait until year end since more immediate reward work best) you can allow the employees to cash in their Safety Bucks for gifts, gift cards or time off. This type of incentive ensures that no one is punished for an accident and everyone has incentive for prevention.

Arbill Safety Rewards – powered by Sparks, is an on the spot rewards program that recognizes your employee’s efforts in making the workplace safe.  Everyone likes to be recognized in the moment.  Instantly rewarding an employee connects the reward to the work, reinforces positive behavior, increases morale and is a great way to say Thank-you.  Each Arbill safety rewards card directs the recipient to a custom website where they can view and order their gift. 

Vist Arbill.com or contact your Arbill representative today to find out more about our Safety rewards Program and how to motivate your employees to safety.  Subscribe to our Safety Blog where we offer great safety tips to keep your employees safe everyday.  See you Friday!



Topics: safety, Arbill, safe everyday, workplace safety, keep your employees safe, safety incentive program, Job Safety Analyses

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