Safety Rewards and Recognition Program Elements

Developing and implementing a successful safety incentive program is no easy task. It requires the inclusion of any number of elements.

The best motivational methods encourage safe behavior and team work while simultaneously discouraging safety infractions and the losses that can and do result.  Finding the right balance is the key to building healthy safety awareness among a workforce – and thereafter maintaining their long term commitment to safe practices.

Minimizing preventable accidents through increased safety awareness is the inevitable result of a well-designed safety incentive approach that is fully integrated into a company’s overall safety program.  The following safety incentive elements are what every effective motivational program requires: 

Is it OSHA compliant?

OSHA is concerned that safety incentives tied to injury reporting may lead to an injured employee fearing retaliation due to the loss of the safety incentive when the injury is reported.

It is therefore crucial that the motivational linkage between the incentive and goal be based exclusively on the employees’ adherence to a company’s safety rules while encouraging behavior-based workforce change through positive reinforcement mechanisms.

Is it fun?

Company policies exist to dictate an employee’s behavior — that is to say…the correct actions a worker is expected to take in the course of his or her job.  An incentive program is designed to impact attitude —(changing behavior from employees being required to do something and instead motivating them to want to do it).

Therefore, the motivational approach used must be something the employees enjoy and want to participate in.  The best way to do this is by making it a “game” thereby migrating the desired effort from ‘work’ to ‘play’.

Is it easy to understand?

An employee incentive program must be clear, concise and easy for any employee to quickly grasp.  This is not to say a company can’t integrate a number of loss prevention goals into the incentive provided.  Just make sure the employees understand the goals and what their responsibilities are in order to achieve those goals.

It is best to have written instructions as well as including an orientation session to provide the workforce an opportunity to ask questions and get needed clarification.   It’s also a great way to build excitement… together!

Is it rewarding?

The best kind of incentive program provides direct linkage between the goal – the elimination of employee safety infractions — and the reward.

Moreover, the rewards provided must have a direct and immediate appeal to the targeted employees.  While cash tends to be the most universally appealing reward, there are a variety of ways to reward safety in the workforce.   If you are unsure of what will best motivate your employees… just ask them!

Does it generate healthy peer group pressure?

The most effective set of safety incentives include a motivational component targeting group achievement.  This translates to larger rewards when the group is together successful in avoiding safety infractions and smaller rewards when safety violations have been committed that contribute directly to harm – whether in the form of equipment/property damage or an employee injury.

Such an approach puts the workforce on notice that they are “in this together”.   What makes it a ‘healthy’ kind of peer group pressure is that the focus is on the cause –safety infractions – rather than the effect… the resulting losses that occur when safety rules are not followed.

Does it encourage behavior-based change through positive reinforcement? 

Group rewards for safety achievement are only one part of an effective safety incentive program.  It must also provide avenues to positively reinforce the individual employee’ behaviors thereby modeling behavior management would like to see in all employees.

The best way to do this is through providing a series of safety incentives linked directly to positive actions.  Each and every step an employee takes to be safer – from making a safety suggestion to identifying a hazard in the workplace — should have an effective motivational reinforcement tied to it.

Is it easy to administer?

All too often good ideas fail to work due to poor execution.  Safety incentives that require too much of a supervisor’s time will eventually fail.   There are simply too many demands in a given day.   Thus, it’s important to keep the safety incentive design ‘user friendly’.

Keep in mind, a safety incentive program is nothing more than a tool.  If it’s difficult to use, the odds are it won’t be of much help in the long run.  Thus, a safety incentive program ensures all of the necessary administrative tools are in place for easy record-keeping.

Is it daily?

An effective safety incentive program must incorporate a “daily dynamic” – something that makes the employees pay active attention to workplace safety each and every day.

The best way to do this is to allow the incentive rewards to grow as each consecutive day goes by without an employee safety infraction.  It’s that day by day process of seeing a reward grow that can provide the desired employee attention and interest in the real objective: helping one another work more safely.

Is it visual?

The secret to preventing accidents and injuries is through enhanced employee safety awareness.  An incentive program that can be regularly seen and touched serves as a constant reminder:  So long as the employees work safely, there is a constant stream of rewards available, both individually and to the workforce as a whole.

Make the presentation bright, colorful, and attention-getting.   Plus, don’t forget to place it in a conspicuous location; a place all participating employees can easily access.

Is it flexible & dynamic?

It’s human nature to be enthusiastic about something new, but then slowly lose interest in it over time.  An effective safety incentive program avoids such an eventuality by delivering a constant flow of fresh incentive ideas, assuring long-term employee focus.  The incentive’s design should also provide management the creative freedom to add new rewards for unexpected achievement such as hitting records for consecutive days without a safety infraction.

Program flexibility also generates opportunities to target new safety concerns as they develop.   Finally, a good safety incentive program is always able to address larger safety-related concerns such as housekeeping and attendance when they come up.

Does it balance rewards with consequences?

A safety incentive program that only rewards fails to recognize that human beings learn much more from their mistakes than their successes.   Therefore, an effective safety incentive program includes both rewards for success and penalties when there are failures. What’s crucial is that those penalties never be seen as retaliatory but instead as nothing more than a set of metrics being utilized to measure overall achievement.

Ensuring full employee compliance with a company’s safety policies should be the heart of any well-designed safety incentive program.  That means success in following those rules is rewarded while failure to follow the rules includes a consequence.  Whether reward or consequence, the key is to create a path of constructive reinforcement to secure and heighten employee safety awareness.

Does it provide recognition & appreciation?

Although people respond to tangible rewards, they also need to be both recognized and appreciated – especially when they make a special effort to contribute.  A good safety incentive program provides methods to harness this desire in any number of tangible ways.

Broadcasting individual employee contributions and ideas is as powerful motivator for those receiving the acknowledgement – often a greater incentive to long-term safety success than any reward.  People like being recognized for the efforts they make and will work that much harder to keeping getting that recognition once it’s been received.

By ensuring all 12 of these essential elements are integrated into your company’s safety incentive program, not only will your safety program be enhanced but you will have given your workforce a powerful morale boost.  Success breeds succeed, and with these 12 essential elements, great safety awareness is virtually assured.

Certainly, some reward is better than none. But all or nothing one-dimensional safety incentives such as periodic safety rewards rarely have the beneficial impact a fully integrated safety incentive system has. Consider the many success stories from long-term users of the Safety Pays program – which has so effectively incorporated all of these “essential elements”.

So, with the potential losses every company has at stake, the inevitable question is: Why not be as comprehensive as possible to insure the greatest possible results? Running an effective safety program without a comprehensive set of incentives is akin to driving a finely engineered car without gas. It is unlikely one can get very far, much less even get the engine to start!

The rule of thumb is simple. If you haven’t implemented safety incentives as part of your overall safety strategy, you’re missing a critical element to assured loss control success. If you do have incentives, ask yourself the extent to which they meet the criteria set forth in this article. The extent to which your safety incentive program incorporates these elements will correspondingly match the level of success you can achieve in the ultimate goal of eliminating on-the-job accidents and injuries.