Do Safety Incentives Work?
 May. 14, 2012

Industry experts all agree that an effective work place safety plan is essential to reducing the incidence of work related injuries. Generally, these plans focus on training employees to work productively by making good decisions and avoiding unsafe acts. Safety incentive programs are sometimes part of the safety plan and many employers often spend considerable time and money on these programs, but with varying results.

Supporters of safety incentives argue that safety is a behavior and that rewards promote and encourage safe behavior. They also believe incentives are a vehicle for companies to demonstrate concern and care for their employees. These employers believe there is a bottom line advantage because workers' compensation costs are reduced.

But, there are those who believe safety incentive programs have at
best, limited value. They consider them a form of bribery. These detractors don't believe safety incentives really affect behavior and that a favorable result can often be attributable to just luck or worse, underreporting of incidents.

When a safety incentive program fails to create the desired behavior or a change in behavior it is most commonly attributable to mistakes made during the implementation process of the safety incentive program. The most common failures are a lack of management commitment and/or improper incentive program administration. Sometimes, program advocates will continue an incentive program even though they question the program's role relative to producing safe behavior because discontinuing the program would be perceived as taking away a benefit from their employees.

Desired Behavior
Let's assume we all agree that working safely is a behavior and that any voluntary behavior can be modified by reward or punishment. Positive behavior is most effectively motivated by reward. So if you've decided to create a safety incentive program, what are the basics? For starters every program must have:

  • Specific goals
  • Measurable results
  • Tools for evaluating return on investment
  • Feedback mechanisms
  • Communication

Communication is in themiddle of the list and perhaps the most critical element. Results, such as reaching milestones, need to be promoted and perhaps celebrated. Safety competes with other operationalpriorities and a stale program will have little relevance.

Safety Program Objectives
The individual reasons for employing a safety incentive program will vary among employers and even departments on occasion. But, successful safety incentives for both small and large employers all have the same three critical objectives.

1. Reducing Accidents and Injuries
One of the benefits of a program with individual rewards is that it can empower individual employees to set positive examples for
others to follow with respect to safety procedures. Employees recognize themselves as important parts of the company and can be 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 reward opportunities for the rest of the team.

2. Cost Reduction
The potential losses that arise from accidents and injuries are significant. While this seems obvious, it is important to look at each cost closely. Accidents and in juries at job sites cost employers an untold amount of lost productivity, in addition to costly workers’ compensation claims. Lost time injuries can result in the inability to fill orders and loss of short and long-term revenue opportunities. In addition there are the costs of replacing injured workers which includes both recruiting and training.

3. Boosting Morale Boosting Motivation
Studies have shown that employees need an occasional pat on the back. After all, they are the company's foundation. It is widely accepted that employees have a higher degree of loyalty to companies that reward them above their expected paycheck for helping to achieve company wide objectives. When employees work together toward a common goal, such as an excellent safety record, they experience a degree of camaraderie and become motivated to be both productive and safety conscious at the same time. This translates into fewer injuries, as well as, fraudulent claims of injury or illness. Employees who have high morale tend to have more respect for their employer and are less likely to place a false claim.

Strategies for Success
Once you decide to implement a safety incentive program there are some basic considerations you need to address before you kick the program off.

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 their accomplishments. Give verbal recognition along with a tangible reward. Also, be sure to use company newsletters, internal e-mails or company intranet to recognize safety conscious employees.

Cash Has Little Value
It may seem surprising, but cold hard cash is not much of a motivator for employees in safety incentive programs. Studies show 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.

Make Rewards "Value Added" for Employees
Employees need to feel that the 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 employers use a 2% 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 rewards a costly expenditure to make safety incentive programs successful. As long as the reward has value to employees it will be effective in motivating safe behavior.

You may want more information on safety incentives or help in developing a program for your company. If so, contact the CMTA Group Workers' Compensation Program at wcgroup@cmta.net.

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