Incentive Programs

A Safety Management Approach

Bob Lapidus, CSP, CSMS

I believe the main reason the labor unions and OSHA are against the use of result-oriented incentive programs, such as giving a reward for not having any injuries, is because such programs can be an inducement not to report an actual injury. In some cases, the award is so terrific employees hide their injuries to get the award. In other cases, the peer pressure from other employees is so strong, employees refuse to take the hassle given by their fellow employees so everyone can receive the positive prize.

This reasoning makes sense. Yet I have seen result-oriented incentives do an excellent job of reducing fraudulent injuries that are being reported and causing workers’ compensation losses go sky high. At one of my client’s operations, they had their own air conditioned health clinic. The work was strenuous and most of it was conducted outside in hot and humid surroundings. To get out of the hot environment, employees claimed a variety of ailments and injuries just to go to the cool health clinic. Not having injuries and incorporating family involvement in the reward program was a significant incentive not to report problems that were not really problems.

On the other hand, this organization’s tremendous reduction in workers’ compensation of over $500,000 in one year was also a result of a variety of activity-oriented incentives. Management used behavior reinforcement. They knew that negative consequences built negative attitudes and behaviors whereby positive consequences built positive attitudes and behaviors. For example, the assistant human resources director would walk around the site catching employees working in a safe manner and giving out safety-related gifts in recognition for such positive activities.

A colleague of mine would catch people doing something right, take their picture, post the picture on the safety bulletin board, and then monthly conduct a drawing where winning employees would receive the actual camera.

Other similar activity-related incentive programs included getting safety recognition for knowing the weekly slogan, developing safe procedures, creating safe work environments, and making positive safety suggestions.

We learned that the major obstacle for incentive programs to work was and still is uncorrected actual or perceived safety problems in the work environment. Where employees knew management was not providing a safe work environment, the implementation of incentive programs actually hurt the safety program because employees felt that management was covering up safety problems.

Implementing positive activity-based incentive programs in an organization where a strong safety program already exists can enhance the overall safety effort and make employees feel good about their work and what they do.

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