Obviously, having a healthier workforce translates into reduced healthcare costs, less absenteeism and increased productivity. There are indirect benefits, as well.

Keeping Safe Practices Front and Center

Your employee safety incentive program should feature job-specific goals and objectives that are clearly defined and measurable.

When it comes to employee recognition programs, none are more important or impactful as well-designed, properly executed employee safety programs. The safety and health of employees should be an essential part of any organization's mission, and such programs can prove to be very effective in contributing to that end.

Investing in safety and health initiatives goes beyond doing the right thing, as ensuring a safe environment, reinforcing safe behaviors, and avoiding operational interruptions can significantly impact productivity and profitability.

Workplace safety is important for individuals and the organizations they serve. According to the National Safety Council, a U.S. worker is injured on the job every seven seconds, which is 4.7 million annually. This is a staggering number, considering the impact of direct and indirect costs.

Employee Safety & Wellness Incentive Programs: A Comprehensive Approach
Employee safety and wellness incentive programs should be designed in such a way as to support, reinforce, and amplify current policies, procedures, and core values. The result is a heightened awareness of safe and healthy behaviors that works to build and establish a safety and wellness culture throughout the workplace.

Several elements should be included, such as:

  • clearly defined and communicated policies and procedures
  • safety guidelines by job type and responsibility
  • clear procedures for reporting near misses, unsafe conditions, or conduct
  • the means to develop solutions to workplace hazards
  • the establishment of safety teams and scheduled safety meetings
  • a mentoring program to guide new associates
  • safety gear and established policies and procedures for its use
  • established safe operating guidelines and procedures for equipment and vehicles
  • an employee safety points-based incentive program

The NSC reports that the top five occupations with the largest number of workplace injuries (resulting in days away from work) are service (firefighters, police); transportation/shipping; manufacturing/production; installation/maintenance/repair; and construction.

Some findings indicate that turnover presents an increased opportunity for incidents. New employees who do not receive adequate training and supervision are at risk during the first several weeks on the job. Absenteeism also contributes to this scenario because employees are asked to complete tasks on behalf of those absent due to injury or health conditions. A comprehensive initiative helps to alleviate the potential for new hire incidents and can provide continuity of culture from one generation to the next.

Your employee safety incentive program should feature job-specific goals and objectives that are clearly defined and measurable. Make sure the program’s benefits, guidelines, and latest news are frequently communicated via all available channels to drive engagement. Include the company's intranet, facility bulletin boards, payroll inserts, email, and text messaging.

It is also imperative that your program service provider's rewards platform be web-based and should include features that facilitate communication and drive engagement, such as company/program newsfeeds, social recognition, a rich rewards selection, and responsive design (which renders correctly for desktop or mobile devices).

Safe and Healthy Behaviors Away from the Workplace
As many safety practitioners are aware, safe behaviors away from the job are also very important. Many of our clients include awareness, safe practices, and safe habits at home as part of their program. This tends to include not only the employee, but the entire family. For example, safety-themed coloring contests for children of employees. The overall message is a pointed one, designed to create safe behaviors that allow daddy (or mommy) to return home at the end of the shift and see him (or her) return to work the following day.

Preventable injuries are the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States, and you may be surprised by some of these findings by NSC.

  • Under 12 months: Mechanical suffocation is the top risk, with more than two preventable deaths occurring (on average) per day.
  • Ages 1 to 24: Traffic crashes pose the most risk. Nearly 21 preventable deaths (on average) occur each day. Insurance companies have found that a leading cause of traffic crashes is distracted driving, due to electronic devices.
  • Ages 25 to 64: Poisoning is the leading cause, largely from prescription pain medication. The opioid epidemic is real and contributes to the almost 100 deaths that occur (on average) per day.
  • Ages 65 and older: The most preventable risk to this group is falls, with more than 69 preventable deaths (on average) per day.

Promoting Healthy Lifestyles
Recent surveys by Incentive magazine indicate that budgets for safety and wellness incentive programs are increasing. The primary reason behind these expanding investments in safety and wellness is the effectiveness of system-wide programs and initiatives.

Nearly three-quarters of respondents viewed their safety incentive program as either very effective or extremely effective. Reducing incidents and preventing injuries were the most commonly stated program goals (61 percent), with more than one-third (34 percent) listing financial benefits such as a reduction in health care costs, workers’ compensation costs, and absenteeism.

Wellness incentive programs are primarily geared toward improving employees' health, the reason given by 64 percent of respondents. Obviously, having a healthier workforce translates into reduced healthcare costs, less absenteeism and increased productivity. There are indirect benefits, as well. Healthier people generally feel better, which contributes to cohesion and positive culture. They also aren't distracted or hampered by medical conditions that impair awareness or physical ability (such as sleep disorders).

Wellness incentive programs encourage employee participation in a variety of activities. The most popular are:

  • physical fitness activities, such as walking or jogging
  • regular medical checkups
  • smoking cessation programs
  • heath risk assessment surveys
  • monitoring health conditions such as hypertension or diabetes

Including teams will increase effectiveness. For example, corporately organized participation in community 5K events provides fun opportunities for participation. Some clients establish quarterly team competition with goals for exercise, weight loss, or other activities. Points are awarded for reaching pre-established goals. Social activities and accountability will improve long-term participation and results.

Our clients often include (or add) a wellness component in their employee safety programs. Have an existing employee safety program? Consider the addition of a wellness component to increase effectiveness.

Employee Recognition as a Comprehensive Solution
Just as including a wellness component enhances employee safety, making them part of a system-wide employee recognition program has proven to be an effective strategy. Programs of this type provide a central point for establishing, reinforcing, and communicating core values, goals, and objectives.

Research consistently shows a positive, progressive linkage between employee recognition, employee engagement, and company performance. Employee recognition programs are tools by which appreciation is expressed consistently to employees for their loyalty, contributions, and accomplishments.

Consistency is often the determining factor for success, especially in establishing and cultivating a positive and productive culture. The Gallup organization has been tracking employee engagement trends in the American workplace for years, and their studies repeatedly show tremendous potential for improvement in this area.

Addressing Misconceptions
Many clients feel overwhelmed at the prospect of implementing a comprehensive program that includes safety, wellness, and employee recognition. Begin by ranking initiatives by organizational importance and realize that it’s often easier to build upon those that are already in place. Over time, additional components can be added.

As the program begins to mature and bear fruit, other parts of the organization will take note and want to participate. Our experience has shown that this organic growth produces stability and long-term, positive results.

Smaller companies tend to focus on less complicated programs, having the opinion that structured, points-based safety and wellness programs aren't as effective for smaller organizations. Our experience with smaller clients is decidedly contrary to this idea. In fact, Gallup substantiated this when they examined engagement by company size and found that the largest companies have the lowest levels of engagement, while the smallest have the highest.

Smaller companies have outpaced all others by a difference of 8-12 percentage points and, during the past four to six years, engagement of small companies grew while others remained stagnant. Therefore, smaller companies possess the fertile soil in which to cultivate dramatic results. Higher employee engagement at the outset produces positive results much earlier in the life of the program.

Some common misconceptions can lead to flawed program design and can adversely impact results. A few of these include:

  • We don't need to reward participants for doing the job they are paid to do. Reward and recognition is more important today, given the rapidly changing workforce. Younger workers are even more concerned about being shown that they aren't taken for granted.
  • Reward budgets aren't that important—it's enough that we have a program for our employees. The largest portion of program budget should be allocated for participant rewards and must be considered in conjunction with required behaviors and results. Program administrators often underestimate the importance of meaningful recognition and rewards.
  • All-or-nothing award rules will provide more permanent results. This can be devastating to morale, especially when implemented for employee safety.
  • Exclusionary implementation won't be perceived as a negative. A comprehensive program is the best way to reinforce value, vision, and culture while motivating and engaging employees. Have distinct KPIs for each job type to maximize success and include everyone.

We're advocating a web-based points program that will ultimately include performance indicators for safety, wellness, tenure, peer recognition, attendance, and more. Consider the impact such a program can have on safety, wellness, retention, and employee engagement in your organization's strategic objectives and ultimate success.

This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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