Behavior-based safety incentive programs: what works?

| April 15, 2013
construction workers

Every workplace has hazards, and incentive programs can help keep safety on workers’ minds throughout the day (photo via the Crane Inspection and Certification Bureau).

Workers in every industry know that they need to follow certain safety guidelines and precautions. But prevention is a funny thing: When it works, it can lull us into complacency – raising the risk of accidents and injuries.

Incentive programs can help keep workers focused on safety, but have themselves become a topic of debate.

While the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) doesn’t issue regulations for safety incentive programs, it recently issued a cautionary bulletin to employers. The premise of the concern is that programs that reward departments for being “injury-free,” for example, encourage workers not to report incidents – leading to a more dangerous environment.

But many researchers believe these negative effects are related specifically to rate-based safety incentive programs, which reward workers for achieving low rates of reported injuries or illnesses. Behavior-based programs, however, reward workers for certain behaviors, such as recommending safety improvements, and often result in real, meaningful improvements in workplace safety.

safety comes first banner

Incentive programs should say it loud and proud: Safety comes first.

Behavior-based incentive programs vary, but they always have the following key components:

They focus on raising awareness.

Studies have shown that employee safety starts with their awareness of safe behavior, and that starts with training. In addition to requiring employees to attend refreshers on safety guidelines, incentive programs help keep the message front and center, through motivational signage or plant-wide scoreboards.

They promote recognition over rewards.

A little acknowledgement can go a long way for promoting safety without discouraging safety reports.

A policy for OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) states that “examples of such positive incentives include providing T-shirts to workers serving on safety and health committees; or throwing a recognition party at the successful completion of company-wide safety and health training.”

Other options that offer recognition? Safety award hard-hat labels, badges or reserved parking.

accident free hard hat sticker

When it comes to safety, incentive programs can make recognition its own reward.

They encourage safety innovation and fixes.

OSHA does support “offering modest rewards for suggesting ways to strengthen safety and health” through reporting injuries, illnesses, near-misses and hazards.

As Mike McKenna, the executive director of the B.C. Construction Safety Alliance, noted in a recent article, many workers may not report a “near-miss,” either because they didn’t see it as a close-call, or because they fear they did something wrong and don’t want to be reprimanded.

Programs that encourage workers to not only report incidents but to be alert to potential hazards can become an incredibly effective component of a company’s safety protocol. For example, the BCCSA encourages companies to establish a “locked near-miss reporting drop box that allows workers to submit near-miss reports anonymously at any time of the day.”

They aren’t the driving force.

Everyone seems to agree that a safety incentive program is only as effective as the leadership’s dedication to safety. Studies have shown that when employers make safety a priority – through encouraging open communication, motivation and training – employees take safety seriously as well, and work to improve it.

Category: OSHA, Safety Tips