Safety training is the best way to ensure your procedures are understood and a great way to reinforce safe behaviors. It reinforces your safety goals and reminds participants about the impacts of not achieving those goals.

Does Your Safety Incentive Program Need More Carrot and Less Stick?

Safety training is the best way to ensure your procedures are understood and a great way to reinforce safe behaviors. It reinforces your safety goals and reminds participants about the impacts of not achieving those goals.

When it comes to safety programs, we've all heard people say, "It doesn't matter what we do, nothing changes." However, when done correctly, safety programs create a safer work environment, higher morale, and increased employee engagement.

One of the issues that plague safety programs is a singular focus on reducing accidents instead of addressing the behaviors that cause accidents and then building a program/plan that addresses the core problems. Building a behavior-based program is a more comprehensive, holistic approach that incorporates intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, training, communications, and rewards.

Considerations around intrinsic and extrinsic motivators are often overlooked in the design of a safety program, but they are an important element to success. Research shows that financial (extrinsic) motivators can reduce the effect of meeting intrinsic goals when they are not balanced. In addition, intrinsic motivators such as learning new skills, nurturing intellectual curiosity, and enjoying tasks are critical to keeping employees engaged and motivated in their job.

Extrinsic motivation does not equate to giving out a cash reward; in fact, cash is not a motivator. It has no trophy value and it’s typically paid out in a paycheck, which means it gets blended into a salary (which ultimately means that it will be used to pay bills). In one study by the Incentive Marketing Association, it was documented that 18 percent of cash recipients could not recall how they spent their cash incentive and another 40 percent used the cash to pay for bills and household items—not very engaging.

The Tale of a Successful Safety Incentive Program
Here's the tale of one company and how they addressed their safety challenges. The goal was to implement a safety program, addressing their specific pain points in a way that would help motivate their employees to achieve greater business results through a positive system of rewards. This program was fully integrated with monthly safety topics tied to promotions to ensure everyone who played a role in corporate safety was focused on the same areas at the same time. This approach enables building a culture of safety, making it a part of the companys DNA.

This organization had been using a “stick” approach to safety. Safety issues were being addressed through a negative feedback approach that included deferral of raises, disciplinary warnings, and even suspensions. Input from employees at Town Hall meetings was that the all stick and no carrot just wasn’t working:


"Punishing did not move the culture very significantly. We found that once the idea of a safety incentive program was introduced to the executives and human resources staff, it was not difficult to sell."

--VP of Safety and Compliance


Many of the target employees were not at desks, and some did not have company email addresses. This required using a mix of online and offline promotional avenues, such as breakroom posters, direct mail, and banner ads on the company's website to increase registrations and gather important information, such as personal email addresses.

Monthly themed promotions were used to address behaviors identified in the accident analysis and keep everyone focused on the same issues at the same time. The elements of the monthly promotions were:

  • Safety training and an associated quiz
  • Submission of safety improvement ideas specific to the monthly theme
  • Use of a physical "On the Spot" recognition card when the right behaviors were noticed
  • Quarterly point awards for incident-free drivers

This safety program has shown consistent increases and continues to gain positive input from employees. The promotions and associated communications continue to increase safety awareness, decrease safety incidents, and improve overall driver engagement. In the first three years of operation, the results prove that a carrot-based approach to safety does work as evidenced by:

  • 25 percent reduction in safety-related claims associated with property damage, vehicular accidents, and injuries
  • 50 percent reduction in the OSHA total incident rate
  • Insurance charge-backs decreased by about 25 percent
  • Active users increased from 65 percent to 83 percent

Best Practices
Effective safety programs are designed around normal employee work processes, and they integrate safety- and health-related decisions and precautions. A successful safety program should be based on an understanding of employees' values and the creation of tools to target factors that motivate and inspire.

Here are five best practices to keep in mind as you design your company's safety program:

1. Acknowledge and understand the current safety challenges and activities of your workers. Collect baseline data from multiple sources, including the employees. Using that information and develop a plan that identifies the trends and behaviors that require attention.

2. When designing your safety program rewards, ensure that the awards are meaningful and motivating. Many companies have learned cash is not the most effective way to motivate or drive results. The right award options can create great trophy value and improve program engagement. Trophy value becomes a walking advertisement for your company, as well as making a great connection with your employee.

3. Training is critical. Safety training is the best way to ensure your procedures are understood and a great way to reinforce safe behaviors. It reinforces your safety goals and reminds participants about the impacts of not achieving those goals while training employees about what it takes, daily, to ensure a safe working environment.

4. On-the-Spot Awards are a great vehicle for adding a personal element to the program and allow management to recognize and reward employees for reporting unsafe work conditions or for working in a safe manner. Immediate recognition and reward allows you to showcase the safe behaviors you want to drive everyone to adopt. Take pictures of these spontaneous recognition moments so you can showcase them in your various communication vehicles.

5) Ongoing communication is crucial to every step of your program. In today's environment, having a communication channel dedicated to your safety program is a great place for your participants to go to for information, reporting, and safety updates. This can be accomplished via a reward website, your company portal, newsletters, social networking, and posters in the breakrooms and cafeterias. This multichannel approach helps to more fully engage employees in the program.

Recognition's Value
At the end of the day, everyone wants to be recognized and appreciated for a job well done. This appreciation is what drives the seemingly unattainable productivity that all companies desire from their workers. A well-designed safety incentive program will create a safe work environment while increasing morale.

When employees are rewarded for practicing safe behaviors, identifying new workplace hazards, or being accident-free for a given period, just to name a few, they will be motivated to stay accident free and feel appreciated by employers.

This article originally appeared in the June 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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