The Three Cs . . .
. . . of making a safety program the best it can be.
- By Michael G. Dermer
- Jan 01, 2004
WORK site safety and safety awareness are integral to success. When safety programs are made part of the broader organizational culture that rewards performance, successful safety programs do more than stem the financial and human resource loss.
When these programs are run correctly, they demonstrate to employees the overall health of the company. They create an attitude within the company that safety is a key metric, to be measured, monitored, and improved. The question is how to make safety "top-of-mind" across the organization.
Unfortunately, management often fails to give safety programs the amount of attention they deserve. Keeping safety top-of-mind, well, is just not top-of-mind. Safety program incentives are a first step toward creating a culture of safety, but they are not enough. The assumption that incentives will increase safety negates the importance of communication, performance measurement, and frequently celebrated rewards and recognition for a job well done. Creating a positive safety environment is not easy, but it is achievable if some basic elements are in put in place.
According to Dan Horne, a professor at Providence College who studies how incentives affect people's behavior, keeping people focused is management's job, and the keys to maintaining focus are creativity and persistence. "Despite what some would like us to believe, a worker is often thinking about a variety of issues--work- and non-work related--during work hours. Industry statistics bear out that nine out of 10 workplace accidents are due to lack of attention. Thoughts about general works issues, the weather, family concerns, and where they're going to watch their favorite team's game this weekend are all competing for immediate attention and are distractions that can lead to unfortunate results. Therefore, it is imperative to create safety programs that use incentives to ensure safety objectives are prominent thoughts in their worker's mind."
A safe workplace is the result of top-of-mind presence throughout the day. Incentives are the means that tie the safety objectives to the individual. They are intended to serve as a constant reminder of the personal benefits that accrue when safety goals are met. But even when programs are created and implemented, the rewards need to be fresh and exciting enough to keep the workers' attention and the desire to keep the workplace safe.
Three key factors to safety and incentive programs that assist in making it the most effective program as possible are Choice, Culture, and Communication. As will be discussed below, the Three Cs combined with specific objectives make safety a top priority across the organization.
Incentive programs often have pre-selected awards that are intended to thank someone for a job well done. Yet the real value of the reward, and its payoff in a safety program, is as a motivator.
The key difference between reward and motivation is that motivation occurs before an event, and rewards occur after. Safety awareness is a "before the event" activity. When employees are given the choice to select rewards from a broad based set of rewards, self-motivation and basic personal goals become key ingredients in keeping safety programs exciting, fresh, and top-of-mind.
The employee is always more involved when rewards are meaningful and can be personally selected. Choice means recipients select the options that most clearly match their personal preferences. This simple shift, from pre-selected impersonal awards to one where the employee gets to choose from a large basket of meaningful awards, introduces powerful personal motivators. There is no better tool to ensure workplace safety than personal employee motivation. It's like being a kid in a candy store, knowing you will get the opportunity.
While this may seem intuitive, it is frequently not the case. For example, studies indicate managers spend 80 percent of their time in incentive programs on sourcing rewards. What's the result? Management will hand out rewards that reflect their own personal tastes. One such real-life example was a company that distributed gift certificates to an expensive, nationally known, high-end retailer. Certainly, it was something most people would love to receive, yet the value of the reward was not sufficient to purchase anything in the store. So rather than being a motivator, the certificates went unused because the recipients couldn't afford the "luxury" of the gift.
Needless to say, what had high perceived value to management actually had the opposite perceived value for recipients. The effect: a negative impact for safety regulation compliance. When you move choice closer to the person on the receiving end, you give them the opportunity to receive something they truly value. And that drives behavior consistent with objectives.
The other impact to safety programs when managers spend 80 percent of their sourcing awards is that time can be better spent managing, monitoring, and improving the safety program. It's time that can be spent on the floor.
Bottom line: Involve employees, enable personal motivators and involvement, and free managers' time to actually oversee and improve--by simply putting reward selection in the employees' hands.
Now that employees are more involved, managers have a better chance to create an achievement-based culture. This is often a culture shift. Reward, recognition, and safety incentives must be tied to specific activities, mindfulness, expectations, and knowledge of outcomes. It can be a difficult shift if a program is not properly put into place.
Effective safety incentive programs have subtleties that differ from many other incentive-based initiatives. Because safety is an "all the time job," it is difficult to reward the many small but very important acts that contribute to a safe environment. For example, entering a work area with a hard hat is important (and also the law in many states). Because this is a simple daily activity, it is often overlooked but is vital to safety. How can you reward for it? How much time can managers spend actually overseeing the reward? What reward can be given that is meaningful enough to get employee attention?
When you have to reward for something that should be happening all the time, the incremental reward that can be offered for each instance of the desired behavior is very small. That doesn't make it unimportant, but it challenges the company to develop a reward structure that works.
This challenge of making small acts count can be solved by deeming these acts as important pieces of the entire program. These small acts become additive, and the value of each small act can be "banked." Workers then receive daily awards that can be calculated and then redeemed for a larger award. A solution that uses an internal accounting system, such as credits or points, can help remind workers of both the safety objective and their personal reward goal. If an employee has his or her eye on a new gas grill, then the mental accounting that takes place will keep the desired safe behavior top-of-mind.
Another important consideration with regard to culture of reward, recognition, and incentive programs is the timeliness of awards. Often, management will talk about giving workers an award for meeting goals or doing something in compliance with requirements; however, they will hold off on giving it out or even forget something was promised. It is important, especially within safety programs for workers, to have immediate reward and recognition. The sooner the reward is tied to the activity, the activity then is given greater importance and becomes more sustainable.
Just as supporting the program is important for safety program success, employee communication is a vital component of demonstrating support. The frequency and quality of communications can make or break an effective safety program.
Meetings to roll out the program where workers can participate by asking questions about the program, in addition to printed materials, really make the importance and the excitement of the program to come to life. Whenever an update to the program occurs, information should be distributed and posted throughout the workplace. Utilizing different methods of communication in combination with regular updates is the most efficient and effective means to improve understanding and active participation from workers.
Another way to keep up effective communication is through the reward redemption process itself. The redemption of a reward provides an excellent opportunity to both reinforce the program message and re-emphasize the benefits of full program participation.
Aligning Employee and Company Well-Being
When an employee's well-being is at risk, safety programs are crucial. Yet employee well-being is also an indication of company well-being. Having management express its full support and proper communication of the programs allows the workers to understand their importance, understand what they need to do, and then fosters a willingness to participate in creating a safer work environment.
Choice, culture, and communications are imperative in creating and implementing a safety program and allow the importance of safety to remain top-of-mind.
This article originally appeared in the January 2004 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.