Modernize Your Safety Incentive Program

Modernize Your Safety Incentive Program

New advancements in gamification, automation, and behavior rewarding deliver stronger accident reduction.

Before we discuss how to modernize, we must understand how safety incentives have evolved and what we have learned. Programs of the past had issues, and it all started with simple dangle the carrot type programs. Don’t have an accident and win a company jacket with a badge, or maybe even some cash. Employees craved cash and these programs grabbed employee attention back in the day. They did incite safer on-the-job behavior, but there were some downsides. Office time to administer those programs was high, and the excitement level and effectiveness of the program waned after about six months.   

The cash programs quickly morphed from being seen as safety recognition to extra compensation that employees soon felt they were entitled to. Once everyone got their jacket or pizza reward at the safety celebration, they quickly lost interest and returned to unsafe habits.   

In response, the industry decided to get more creative. Gift certificates followed by the gift cards of today were dangled as the carrot instead of cash. We all thought the popular cards would create long-term safe behavior change. Not the case. Eventually, the entitlement issue mimicked the cash incentive issues and, in today’s world, gift cards are now considered taxable to the employee (like cash).  

Employers in the 1980s turned to Safety Bingo. This gamification element certainly created more promotion and hype, plus it held employee interest longer. However, when employees eventually learned that there were only a few that won, the results quickly faded. The time that it took to administer and promote such programs also became a challenge for employers. As a company that has 70 years of administering and seeing the outcome of safety incentive programs, I can assure you, we have certainly learned that when administration becomes time-consuming for management, the promotion and results of a safety incentive program plummet.   

The Issue with Lagging Indictors 

When employers rewarded employees solely upon lagging indicators, like not having an accident, this stirred up controversy. The fear was these programs caused underreporting and hiding of smaller accidents. This, of course, was followed by many companies avoiding incentive programs altogether. High accident rates and increased fatalities returned to most of those companies that discontinued their incentive programs. 

Around 2018, it was determined that when incentive programs were designed correctly, they were indeed a positive, powerful tool proven to reduce accidents and save lives. Adjustments were made, assuring that the reward was attached to leading indicators such as accident prevention behavior. Companies have since experienced the strongest, true accident reduction results in our country’s history with these properly structured programs.   

A Lesson from the Past 

Today, more than ever, companies are finding that a properly designed incentive program can revolutionize safety culture and provide an excellent return. They are easier to administer, able to eliminate non-reporting issues, promote themselves, and even gain excitement and safety awareness with time, versus becoming stale.   

As we have learned, program administration must be reduced or eliminated. This can now be accomplished by choosing an online or mobile safety incentive rewarding platform. If a company is unable to go the online route, they can choose a program that has merchandise awards built into it, eliminating the hassle of fulfilling the awards. Keep in mind, a system that rewards more frequently (such as weekly) for safe behavior will deliver stronger results compared to a program that only rewards at the end of the quarter or year.   

Pick a program that has a gamification component. Make sure that the game delivers a tangible reward for every employee that is safe, in addition to a larger grand prize drawing component that can be promoted. After evaluating the results of literally thousands of programs worldwide over the last several decades, we completed a study that showed 52 percent of employees are more motivated by smaller, individual rewards and 48 percent were more motivated by chances at a large drawing. Successful programs have both the individual awarding and grand prize components built-in so that the program appeals and drives motivation to all employees.   

Don’t forget to go the merchandise route for awards. It delivers more trophy value and avoids the entitlement issue and potential tax complications in comparison to the cash and gift card-based alternatives. An online catalog arranged in plateaued value levels has proven to drive more motivation as well. The incentive to get to the next level of prizes helps the program gain excitement with time.   

Modernization Works 

In the spring of 2018, a large Anheuser-Bush distributor in North Florida modernized its safety incentive program. It chose a gamified program that utilized weekly electronic scratch-off game cards. Every card was a winner of at least 25 points. Points were redeemable for merchandise awards in an online catalog and all items were shipped directly to the home of the employees.   

“We wanted to simplify our program, and needless to say this was the answer,” the head safety officer explained.   

Each scratch card also contained one of the letters in the word “JACKPOT.” Employees traded these letters online with their co-workers, fueling program promotion from within. Once the word “JACKPOT” was spelled with their cards, they were entered into a series of exciting national drawings (provided by their incentive company) and even some smaller drawings held at their location.   

Employees at the distributor earned bonus electronic game cards that can be scratched with a virtual coin on their computer or mobile phone for safe behavior participation. They receive cards for safety suggestions and scoring well on safety quizzes. The portal itself actually delivers the training and quizzes, then scores them and automatically rewards the employee, keeping administration simple yet effective. The distributor is still running this program, has enjoyed significant accident reduction, a strong return on investment, and more time to focus on safety training.   

Safety incentive and recognition programs have evolved. They can now revolutionize an organization's safety culture in short order, squelch non-reporting, dramatically lower accidents, and save lives. Utilizing the modern tools and technology of today to motivate your team makes sense. Remember and learn from the lessons of the past. It’s time you modernize, keep life simpler and your job focused on safety. 

This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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