The Real Deal

Big or small. Industrial or white collar. Low-hazard jobs or high-hazard jobs. In all of these, a smartly designed and executed safety incentive program will work well and fairly quickly, said Sean Roark, CPIM, senior vice president of PromoPros Inc. of Spring, Texas.

He cited Kellogg Company, the iconic Battle Creek, Mich.-based cereal company, which is spending about $1,100 per employee now for about 30,000 employees and believes it is achieving a return on investment of better than 200 percent, Roark said. "But if you are a five-person company, you can change your culture with a safety incentive program," he added.

"The gold standard, in our opinion, is a wellmanaged point system," he said. "And it functions best in an environment where safety is a primary consideration. We will find, oft entimes, that a company that has a great safety program, we can talk with them about their length-of-service program, we can talk with them about their health and wellness program. And we can come up with a viable program where the employees who are not as affected as others by safety [hazards] every five years are eligible to be recognized for length of service. And if in fact a company really wants to save some huge money, they may put in place a program to improve employees' health and wellness."

Even with bailed-out banks' bonuses raising tempers, travel remains a very popular reward. The more it appears the employer has been thoughtful about choosing the award, the better it works at motivating desirable behavior, Roark said.

"We find that, very oft en, our first meeting is with a Certified Safety Professional. One of the things they're looking for from us is a way to communicate this to a chief operating officer or a chief financial officer who says 'We can't afford this kind of program,'" he said.

Often, these contacts had prior experience with a program that did not work at some other company. But that is less true in the safety profession, said Roark. A segment of the safety community needs no convincing about safety incentives' power because many in the community have seen dramatic improvements in their results from integrating safety rewards into their programs, he explained.

This works, he said, because safety engineers and safety managers are trusted by their senior managements to save money from the programs they advocate. Still, it is very important that the safety incentive be a turnkey solution because the engineers and managers will run into trouble if they recommend a program to senior management and ask for personnel to administer it.

Turnkey Program with Employer Control

He recommends using a program that offers points for various contributions, including small ones such as volunteering to serve on a safety committee or attending a safety meeting. These are a modest cost for the employer, but they work.

The employer controls who is eligible and which activities can deliver points. The points system also maintains a connection between the awarded prize and the party awarding it — the employer. As Roark outlined the program, the plant manager carries a voucher book around with him/ her. PromoPros maintains the program metrics, showing the actions for each worker's point total. Managers can award points on the spot. When the worker checks for his/her points balance, the computer screen offers congratulations along with the new point total.

Everybody on a particular team will earn monthly points. There are also team points, which encourage employees to step forward and correct/ assist others.

"We aren't a program that's going to discourage [injury or incident] reporting. We're not a program that's going to drain cash flow," Roark said. "We believe if you start with us at the beginning of a calendar year, within that calendar year you're going to at least start to see a positive ROI — in other words, not a negative cash flow. In the second year, you'll see a reduction in cost because you have the program in place.

"In the end, the compelling argument that brings people around is, they're going to be able to see results from this in a pretty short cycle. We're not telling people, 'Boy, the third year aft er you start this, you're going to see results.' We're telling people that the tangible results are going to be evident pretty quickly," which appeals to a CEO or CFO, he said.

Points might be structured differently for a workforce that commonly does high-risk jobs, such as delivering fuel, than for a business whose employees work at computers in an offi ce building. Yet an incentive program can be designed to succeed in either kind of work environment, in a large company or a small one, even if times are lean.

"There's no better time to do this than when you're going through tightening your belt because of the speed with which you're going to see benefits from the program," Roark said.

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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