By Dan Bookham for April 2023 WorkBoat Magazine
The data is in: A strong safety culture has the single greatest impact on accident reduction in the workplace on land and water both. With that in mind, a smart employer will look to prioritize the creation or reinforcement of a strong safety culture and will often turn to an incentive program to drive the desired results. But what’s the best approach?
Incentive programs fall into two categories. Calendar-driven, aka rate-based, incentive programs reward employees for injury free time periods such as months or quarters. Action-driven programs recognize employees for taking proactive steps to prevent workplace injuries and encourage the reporting of near-misses and safety hazards.
Both approaches are allowed under current OSHA standards, but rate-based programs come with an important caveat. There are concerns that these programs can encourage folks to brush injuries and incidents under the rug. Pressure from coworkers can be significant as well: Nobody wants to be the one to mess up everyone else’s shot at the bonus. OSHA has specifically stated that employers cannot create incentive programs that would “deter or discourage an employee from reporting an injury or illness,” but human nature is a tricky thing and we all know such things can be − to throw in a little Shakespeare − more honored in the breach than in the observance.
The other downside to rate-based programs is that they can make it easy to assume a safety record is a product of an excellent culture rather than a product of luck. We’ve all marveled at boneheaded behavior by a coworker that surely will see them carted off in an ambulance, but folks 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.
With action-driven programs however, the rewards are triggered by proactive efforts to both avoid and acknowledge potential hazards and issues, as well as to ensure there’s no penalty associated with the timely reporting of all workplace injuries. Because sustained safety 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, these data-rich programs feed long-term success. Additionally, they incentivize employees to take positive actions to prevent injuries rather than pay them to not be injured.
For this month’s take away, 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.