Implementing a Safety Incentive Program


Being part of a workplace that possesses a strong safety culture is undoubtedly something to be proud of. A strong safety culture expresses concern for one another in a workplace. This translates to good employer employee relationships and that often coincide with a prosperous company as a whole.

“Safety comes first” or “Safety is our goal” are common slogans or phrases businesses use to advertise their dedication towards safety. Safety truly is number one, because an injury shows a lack of controls being in place. This reflects poorly on both management and the employees.

Work-related injuries and illnesses are monitored by OSHA. A company is required to report the total number of cases with days away from work, the total number of cases with job transfer or restriction, the total number of other recordable cases, and the total number of days away from work due to injuries or illnesses, along with other information. If these numbers reach a set limit a company has a greater chance of being audited by OSHA. This could bring heavy fines and jeopardize a company’s ability to stay in business. That being said, it is easy to see why there is a lot of pressure on a company to perform well from a safety standpoint.

How do can I make Safety number one?

Companies have tried some innovative methods to decrease their injury and illness statistics. One popular method that companies have tried is implementing a safety incentive program. These programs are very appealing. They claim to lower injury and illness rates, create a safer work environment, and improve safety culture. This will lead to safer behaviors and work practices, better communication, and reduced injury costs. This is very attractive sounding to any company, especially one struggling with injuries. Who wouldn’t want to improve their safety culture, lower injury and illness rates, and save money?

A safety incentive program has the potential to do all those things, but only if it is the correct program, for the correct work place, presented in the correct way, and with the correct incentives. An incentive program done incorrectly can be a heavy burden on a company. It can potentially create a more unsafe workplace environment.

What these programs fail to advertise is they can reveal many aspects about a company’s culture. These aspects are not always directly related to safety or are positive. They can test the limits on how well a company’s employer employee relationship is. There must be a certain degree of trust and honesty between everyone in order for an incentive program to be successful. Distrust in the system will deplete effort and participation in the program, ultimately causing it to fail.

How do I implement an effective Safety Incentive Program?

There are many positive and negative unintentional consequences a safety incentive program can produce. This is why it is important to plan for implementing a program as much as possible.

A safety incentive program must have an effective way to measure the results of its implementation. To do this performance indicators must be recorded. There are both leading and lagging indicators used for this.

Lagging indicators are statistics or rates used to measure performances over a period of time. Examples of this are the number of lost work days, injury rates, number of incidents, workman compensation costs, and OSHA violations. This information is result oriented and most of it is needs to be reported to OSHA anyway. This information can reflect both positive and negative information about a company. The problem with information produced from lagging indicators is that it is all “after the fact” or “reactive” to what has already happened. It also does not necessarily reflect any improvement (“positive” or “negative”) to a company’s safety culture.

If you think about it, do “positive numbers” always reflect that a “positive job” was done on something?

Example: If someone were to go a year without receiving a single speeding ticket, does that mean they were driving under the speed limit the entire time?

According to the example, all the answer to this question would be yes. However, it is easy to see that the numerical values are probably not representing the whole story. When you reward behavior based on lagging indicators in a safety incentive program employees are influenced to not report accidents, injuries, near misses or other incidents to make the numbers or statistics look intact. Safety leaders are pressured to “look the other way” when activities occur that are considered to be OSHA recordable.

This type of behavior defeats one of, if not the most important points of a safety incentive program which is to generate as much information as possible.

What are my leading indicators?

Leading indicators are proactive and predictive. They are designed to measure improvements in safety management systems and worker behaviors. Leading indicators foretell future results. They recognize improved performances.

Examples of leading indicators are the number of job safety analyses completed, near misses reported, safety suggestions made, number of volunteers for safety monitoring devices, the average time it took to implement corrective actions, and the number of safety program participants.

Leading indicators reward employees for safety related behaviors and activities completed rather than results. It encourages a proactive approach to safety and generates a plethora of good information when done correctly.

The disadvantage of rewarding for this type of indicator is that there needs to be a degree of genuineness among the participants. Employees, at all levels, must “buy in” or participate honestly in the program.

In reality one needs to mix a balance of leading and lagging indicators into their safety incentive program. Correctly mixing the two can offset the cons of each indicator.

Appropriately planning a safety incentive program allows one to design a fair, defined program that everyone can participate in, which focuses on desired behaviors.

The success of a safety program depends heavily on managers designing the program to collect safety data. This data, when used correctly, can significantly improve the program. In order to effectively collect this data a mix of leading and lagging indicators need to be used. The challenge is selecting the correct combination of indicators for an incentive program that will fit a company’s work place.