Positive Strokes Lead to Safer Folks

A little extra motivation is helpful. Try an incentive program to boost your training efforts.

ARE you looking for a way to increase employee involvement in safety activities and training? Incentive programs can motivate employees to follow safety-related rules, complete required or recommended training, or participate in safety-related activities such as safety committees.

Of course, it is important to note that employees have a responsibility to conduct themselves according to your organization's policies and procedures, whether or not an incentive program is in place. However, often there are situations where a little extra motivation is helpful. Employees generally realize safety is important but sometimes fail to make time for safety-related activities unless they are required.

Today's busy employees need encouragement to volunteer for optional safety tasks that fall outside their core responsibilities. An extra "nudge" also can be helpful when introducing computer-based training that requires employees to develop new habits and be more self-directed than traditional training methods. In these situations and many more, an incentive program can be an effective way to focus attention on safety and show recognition and appreciation for safety-related efforts. Implementing a safety incentive program need not be a cumbersome chore. Rather than "re-invent the wheel," you may find it useful to incorporate ideas from another organization.

Contests and Awards
Both contests and awards can be used in incentive programs. Contests are one-time awards programs that may be based on a safety statistic such as lost-time injuries or timely completion of a safety training module. Safety awards programs typically are ongoing. They can recognize a single item or involve a multi-factor scoring system for activities such as safety meeting attendance, participation in safety audits, conducting ergonomics assessments, or submitting safety suggestions. Awards and contests may be based on the participation of individual employees, departments, or the entire organization.

While a wide range of cash, gifts, or other incentives is available, award items must be chosen carefully if they are to have the desired motivating effect within your organization's culture. If cash or savings bonds are awarded, what amount is most appropriate? Would merchandise that features the company logo build team spirit while also enhancing safety? If gift items are awarded, how many options should be offered to appeal to the diverse interests of your workforce? Of course, budget is another important factor in designing an awards program. In a recent survey, three out of four respondents stated the average gift was less than $100. The most popular gifts were music, travel, office items/electronics, and food/liquor. ("The 2003 Business Gifts FACTS Report." Incentive, August 2003: p. 24.)

An incentive program must be designed carefully to focus attention on improving health and safety--not on the payout. For example, an incentive program should not encourage employees to cover up injuries to avoid the loss of an award. Timing of an incentive program is also an important consideration. When incentives are announced as an integral part of a "new safety and health program," the payout can become the primary item of interest, rather than a safer workplace.

Some organizations first get a basic safety program into place and allow time for safety to become part of the workplace culture. After a year or two of experience with the safety program and the achievement of positive results, they announce a plan to recognize successes and encourage continued focus on safety.

A Safety Incentive Program in Action
A mid-sized high-tech materials and technology company is currently engaged in a pilot program to introduce, evaluate, and fine-tune a comprehensive safety incentive program. The program grew from a suggestion by a safety manager who had previous experience with an incentive program in an elementary school setting.

The company's Safety Team built upon the suggestion and developed a detailed master plan that encouraged participation in safety-related activities by awarding points for 10 types of activities:
1. Successfully completing an online training class.
2. Attending a monthly safety meeting.
3. Participating in a safety audit.
4. Attending a Safety Team meeting.
5. Participating in second party safety audits.
6. Submitting original, valid safety suggestions.
7. Developing or providing area-specific safety training.
8. Participating in a Pre-Startup Safety Review (PSSR).
9. Participating in a Process Hazard Analysis (PHA).
10. Other safety-related activities.

Points can be redeemed for gift certificates from a variety of popular businesses on an annual basis.

The Safety Team began by reviewing the goals of the organization's safety program. First and foremost, the program was intended to support the safety-conscious organization's longstanding goal of zero safety-related incidents. The details of the program were carefully crafted to support that goal and several others:

  • Equitable treatment of all employees. For example, maintenance employees are required to take more online safety training than office staff, and Safety Team members attend more safety meetings than other employees. To offset the advantage of particular employee groups in the safety incentive program, there are 10 different ways to earn points, and the maximum number of points available for some types of activities is capped.
  • Participation in a wide range of safety activities. This is encouraged by the variety of ways to earn points and caps on points available from certain activities.
  • Focus on leading safety indicators rather than trailing indicators. For example, points are awarded for training but not for days without an injury. (Bush, Larry. "Growing Season." Occupational Health & Safety, January 2003: pp. 28-30.)
  • Timely completion of online training. No points are awarded for training completed after the assigned deadline.
  • Completion of all mandatory safety activities. Points can be redeemed only if all mandatory safety activities have been completed.
  • Minimizing time spent by safety staff to administer the safety incentive program. Awards are provided using a gift certificate program already in use elsewhere in the company.

The Safety Team's efforts resulted in a pioneering safety incentive program that took a new approach to achieving the organization's safety goals. Previously, the organization had used a discussion of safety participation at performance appraisals to motivate employees, and safety was sometimes viewed as a necessary chore. In contrast, the safety incentive program uses positive incentives to motivate employees to increase their focus on safety.

At the six-month mark, the pilot program has succeeded in generating a great deal of interest in the safety incentive program. The pilot program has given both participants and program administrators an opportunity to "practice" before the program is finalized and formally rolled out.

The Safety Team is gratified by the results of the pilot program and eager to see how this new approach will affect safety metrics. It is likely other divisions of the organization will adopt the safety incentive program.

Developing Your Own Safety Incentive Program
If you are considering a safety incentive program for your organization, please remember that "one size does not fit all." Aligning your safety incentive program with company goals, rewarding a variety of safety-related activities, providing a choice of gifts, and conducting a pilot project to fine-tune your incentive program are useful approaches for most organizations. The specific details of the program, however, should consider your organization's culture and address your organization's safety goals.

Here are additional suggestions (Safety Meetings on CD-ROM. Business & Legal Reports, 2003) for developing a successful safety incentive program:

  • Publicize your organization's safety goals widely and often.
  • Before announcing an award program, first have a safety program in place that is achieving positive results.
  • Get input from line and staff managers and the safety committee and modify the program proposal based on their input.
  • Determine specific start and end dates for your program.
  • Develop an efficient, user-friendly system for administering the program.
  • Develop a budget for the awards, often based on some percentage of anticipated savings.
  • Make plans for advertising and promoting your incentive program.

This article originally appeared in the January 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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