A Most Valuable Proposition

In some companies, individual recognition programs perform better than group reward programs, but the trial period will bear out this fact.

THE promotional products business has witnessed much debate over whether safety incentive programs are successful--or even necessary--in the workplace. Opponents claim that rewarding or motivating employees to achieve positive safety records actually encourages covering up injuries and falsifying records.

However, opponents should understand that incentive programs are not a replacement for proper safety regulations and procedures. They simply complement the company's policies and promote solid, well-maintained safety methods. Using promotional incentives as a risk management tool can help companies reduce accidents and injuries, improve company productivity, and boost employee morale.

Any program that discourages employees from reporting accidents clearly misses the mark. Used correctly, safety incentives programs do not lead to under-reporting. Safety incentives reward safe behavior. More importantly, a program cannot take the place of proper recordkeeping, quality management, and proper risk management guidelines.

Reducing Accidents and Injuries
Many companies see the value of investing time and money on safety recognition programs. According to the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI), more than 3 percent of the $18 billion spent on promotional products in 2005 was purchased for safety education incentives. This means that companies worldwide spent approximately $540 million to promote or reward safety in the workplace using some type of promotional product.

It is important to realize there are no one-size-fits-all solutions for incentive programs of any type. Safety managers or company management should evaluate the company landscape and employee preferences to determine the type of program to administer. When integrating a new program, companies should conduct a trial period to establish the most effective type of program. In some companies, individual recognition programs perform better than group reward programs, but the trial period will bear out this fact.

One benefit of an individual program is that it can empower individual employees to set examples for others on following safe procedures. Employees are able to recognize themselves as an important part of the company and are self-driven to reap the rewards of safe practices. On the other hand, group programs can be effective in keeping individuals from breaking rules or performing unsafe practices for fear of spoiling award opportunities for the rest of the team.

Cost Improvement
The potential losses from accidents and injuries are many, and while the issues are obvious, it is important to look at each more closely.

First, accidents and injuries on job sites cost employers an untold amount of lost productivity, in addition to costly worker's compensation claims, damaged equipment, and lawsuits. According the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 4 million cases of non-fatal injuries and illnesses in the private sector reported in 2004. Almost 1.3 million of those cases resulted in days away from work. Consider that those lost days quickly add up into lost output, lag time due to training replacements if applicable, and the expenses of outsourcing or bringing on a temporary replacement during the employee's absence.

Companies also pay excessive amounts in worker's compensation fees to cover injuries and illnesses. When accidents occur, premiums significantly increase. Safety incentive programs, when used properly with a strong risk management program, can limit the amount of premium increases.

The costs of damaged equipment are another important consideration. Equipment damaged during employee accidents can be a leading source of lost productivity. Equipment is an important investment, so when the equipment is out of commission, the investment is performing poorly.

Lawsuits resulting from accidents and injuries at the workplace are another costly threat. With a safety incentive program in place, companies reduce the risks of both accidents and legal proceedings.

Boosting Morale Boosts Motivation
Studies have shown that employees need an occasional pat on the back. After all, they are the foundation of a company. It is easy to surmise that employees have a higher degree of loyalty to companies that reward them above their expected paycheck for performing hard work.

When employees work together toward a common goal--an excellent safety record, for example--they experience a degree of camaraderie and become motivated to be productive and cautious regarding safety and risk management practices.

High morale usually translates into fewer fraudulent claims of injuries or illness. Employees who have a high morale tend to have more respect for their employer and are less likely to place a false claim.

Incentive Products In Action
The smallest of companies can benefit from safety incentives programs without having to spend too much of their bottom line implementing a program for employees and purchasing rewards.

The promotional products industry has made available program kits that are designed to be easily implemented into a company's safety training procedures. For example, Action Safety Training offers a product to train and reward safe working practices. The company's "Action Safety Complete Program" is written by certified safety professionals and delivers safety solutions that address the needs of all industries. The program includes 12 safety awareness topics and is equipped with everything that is needed to hold effective monthly safety meetings with employees.

While packaged solutions are often very effective, it is important to remember there is no cookie-cutter program that is effective for every company. A promotional products expert in safety incentives programs can assist companies in preparing a plan for what types of products to use and how often it should be implemented.

Incentive programs do not replace proper safety regulations and company procedures; they reward employees who follow them. These programs should be used to complement and promote effective safety methods.

This article appeared in the September 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

A Guide to Successful Incentives
Looking to create an ideal incentive or rewards program? Here are several tips that help create camaraderie, contentment, and, most importantly, compliance.

Recognize employees publicly. Not everyone likes attention from the crowd, but most people feel a sense of pride when recognized in front of their peers and superiors for an accomplishment. Give verbal recognition along with a tangible reward. Also, be sure to use company newsletters, internal e-mails, or the company intranet to recognize safety-conscious staffers.

Listen to your employees. Survey which types of incentives will motivate employees to maintain an accident-free workplace. A quality company wristwatch or beverage cooler may be just the thing for reminding employees to engage in safe behavior and follow safety procedures.

Offer several items. Keep in mind that employees will have different opinions on what they consider valuable. Offer several choices of incentives to ensure that the reward will meet the objective of the program: maintaining positive risk management procedures.

Cash has little value. Safety managers and company officers may be surprised to learn that cold, hard cash is a low motivator for employees. Studies have shown that employees begin to view cash rewards as part of their regular compensation and end up using financial rewards to pay bills. Employees quickly forget how the money was earned, which in turn defeats the program's intentions, making it less likely to encourage the employees' behavior in the future.

Make rewards value-added for employees. Employees need to feel that their reward for helping to maintain a safe work environment has value. It needs to drive them beyond performing their duties for paychecks and influence them to perform safe behaviors.

Many larger corporations use a 2 percent rule of thumb in rewarding employees. Employees are given an incentive worth approximately 2 percent of their annual compensation.

However, companies do not need to make incentives a high expenditure to make safety incentive programs successful. As long as the reward has value to employees, it will be effective in motivating safe behavior.

This article originally appeared in the September 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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