Catch Someone Doing Something Right

Worker writing on clipboard

Safety incentive programs have been around for a long time. Employers often seek solutions for their workplace injury rates and decide that employee incentives are a good idea. On the surface it can make sense. Paying workers a little extra in order to work safer sounds like a good plan, but the results are often disappointing, misleading, or downright deceptive. 

Incentive programs can be lumped into two basic categories. A rate-based incentive program will reward employees for “injury free” time periods such as months or quarters. Another program version is one that recognizes employees for taking actions to prevent workplace injuries such as reporting near-misses or safety hazards. Although both versions are allowed under the OSHA standards the rate-based programs come with an important caveat. OSHA has published a clarification of their stance on these programs- you can find the entire document here. In a nutshell, the concern is that rate-based programs can encourage workers to cover up workplace injuries. Pressure from coworkers can be significant as well. “Everyone wants our safety bonus, so don’t screw it up by reporting your injury.” OSHA states their position on both incentive programs this way: 

Incentive programs can be an important tool to promote workplace safety and health. One type of incentive program rewards workers for reporting near-misses or hazards, and encourages involvement in a safety and health management system. Positive action taken under this type of program is always permissible under § 1904.35(b)(1)(iv). Another type of incentive program is rate-based and focuses on reducing the number of reported injuries and illnesses. This type of program typically rewards employees with a prize or bonus at the end of an injury-free month or evaluates managers based on their work unit’s lack of injuries.  Rate-based incentive programs are also permissible under § 1904.35(b)(1)(iv) as long as they are not implemented in a manner that discourages reporting.  Thus, if an employer takes a negative action against an employee under a rate-based incentive program, such as withholding a prize or bonus because of a reported injury, OSHA would not cite the employer under § 1904.35(b)(1)(iv) as long as the employer has implemented adequate precautions to ensure that employees feel free to report an injury or illness.  

The other significant issue related to rate-based incentives is that an injury-free time period can simply be the result of luck. We all know that people can often engage in unsafe behaviors for a time before an injury occurs. If we throw money at the entire group for avoiding injury, we can inadvertently reward employees when they are not actually behaving safely. 

Early reporting of all workplace injuries is important. Long-term success depends upon knowing what injuries are occurring, what the real hazards are, and knowing if employees are engaged in safe behaviors and following their training. Incidents, with or without injuries, must be reported so that corrective actions can be taken in a timely manner. Check out this previous post that discusses the importance of reporting and acting upon all incidents- Heinrich’s Pyramid- Does It Hold Up 90 Years Later? 

So, what kind of incentive will work best in your business? This will naturally differ from one business to another, but the underlying premise must be consistent. Reducing injuries by encouraging safe behaviors without discouraging injury reporting is the goal. Since rate-based programs can discourage reporting let’s choose the alternative. Incentivize employees to take positive actions to prevent injuries rather than pay them to not be injured. 

Recognizing desirable behaviors within your organization will result in more workers engaging in those behaviors. It does not have to be a monetary reward; often simply thanking people for doing the right thing is enough. It is human nature to engage in behaviors that provide positive consequences and the more an organization can reward desired behaviors the more those behaviors will occur. 

Establish a safety program that includes a safety incentive aimed at taking positive actions. For example, pay a bonus to someone who reports an unsafe condition. Recognize someone for volunteering to conduct safety training, participate in the safety committee, or for writing a new safety policy. Reporting near-misses and stopping unsafe actions can also be rewarded. Catching someone doing something right can lead to a more positive culture, better employee engagement, and fewer workplace injuries.

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