Business Insurance

Safety Incentive Programs: Best Practices and Common Pitfalls

incentive programs

Safety incentive programs have been utilized by employers for years to help reduce the frequency and severity of worker injuries. There are many different ways to administer incentive programs, but employers need to understand what to do, and what not to do, when it comes to implementation.

Traditional incentive programs have focused on rewarding employees for working “X” number of days, weeks, or months without an injury. This type of program has been successful for many organizations but in recent years has garnered the attention and concern of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

OSHA is concerned that incenting employees in this fashion could result in some workers not reporting injuries for fear of losing out on valuable rewards. OSHA has made it illegal for employers to do anything that discourages any employee from reporting a work-related injury or illness.

OSHA recently issued a memorandum that clarifies their position on this matter, but it is clear that simply rewarding workers for not getting hurt on the job is not the best way to reduce or eliminate injuries.

Incentive Programs are NOT Safety Programs

Some employers feel that their incentive programs are their safety programs. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Incentive programs should be viewed as the “icing on the cake” when it comes to integrating them with a company-wide safety program.

Safety programs must consist of policies, rules, and procedures that clearly describe what will be done to provide workers with a safe and healthful work environment. Elements of these programs should include employee training, accident investigation, and regulatory compliance, just to name a few.

These basic elements must be in place before any incentive programs are considered. It is essential for employers to understand their specific organization’s safety requirements before they can determine the best methods for motivating their workers to comply.

Goals Must Be Clear

Incentive programs must have goals, and typically those goals involve the reduction of the number and cost of worker injury claims. Do not confuse goals with incentives. Incentives are designed to motivate workers to perform the tasks that will contribute to achieving the goals.

Rewarding a person for attending safety meetings, wearing the right PPE (personal protective equipment) at the right time, or following established safe work procedures are just a few examples of how to reach the desired objective. Each organization must determine what activities are necessary in order to attain their goals. Incent the process, and the results will follow.

Clear objectives, clear expectations, and clear rewards will simplify the process. Clarity and simplicity will help ensure the long-term success of any safety incentive program.

Who, What, and When

Every person who contributes positively to the objective(s) should be rewarded. Putting each eligible employee’s name into a hat for a drawing that rewards just one or two people may only be marginally effective. Rewarding each eligible employee with a smaller incentive, and then entering them into that same drawing will have a much greater chance of success.

Employers must decide what incentives to use by learning what motivates their own workforce. Cash rewards can be desirable, but not for everyone, and this can get very expensive. Rewarding someone with a lottery ticket (where legal) typically generates more excitement and appreciation than handing someone two or three one-dollar bills.

Sometimes the most effective incentives involve rewards that are not easily obtained (i.e. providing special company shirts, jackets, or pins for employees who serve on the safety committee or help develop safety training programs). And never forget the power of a simple pat on the back. Not all incentives need to be monetary!

Just remember that different people like to be recognized in different ways, and it is the organization’s responsibility to find out what motivates their employees.

Another factor to consider is the frequency of rewards. Most incentive program advocates agree that frequent recognition with smaller rewards is typically more effective than larger rewards given out once or twice each year. A combination of these two rewards that strikes an economic balance would be ideal.

Support from the Top

The success of any organizational objective is tied directly to management support, and safety incentive programs are no exception. Top management’s support of the program should be clear. Endorsement from all levels of management will show employees that the organization is committed to the overall success of the program.

Incentive programs can help motivate employees to embrace safe work procedures and assist employers with implementing their overall safety programs. They can also provide a fun and challenging pathway towards the ultimate goal of reducing the frequency and severity of employee injuries and enhancing the organization’s safety culture.

Patrick Hagge is vice president of risk management for Ewing-Leavitt Insurance Agency. He has been in the insurance loss control field since 1986. Pat provides safety and claims management consultation services to organizations in a wide variety of industries. He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and also holds the designations of Associate in Risk Management (ARM) and Associate in Loss Control Management (ALCM).