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Effective Safety Incentive Programs: Dos and Don’ts

Posted, by Jennifer DiPietro
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In 2014, nearly 3 million cases were recorded of nonfatal injuries and illnesses in the United States. That in turn, added up to more than 900,000 days of work missed.

Safety has become priority number one at many companies. But getting employees to adhere to safety programs and regulations is not always easy.

Having the right safety incentive plan in place can help to motivate employees to get engaged in the types of protocols, procedures, and precautions necessary to make for a safer work environment.

Creating Effective Safety Incentive Programs

What To Implement 

  • Behavior employees can completely control – Create incentives that are completely within the control of the employee, such as wearing safety goggles and hard hats whenever they are required, weekly safety meeting participation, and immediately reporting unsafe conditions.
  • Link incentives to reduced risk – Create incentives that are directly associated with reducing risk. Engage employees in reducing risk and making the workplace safer by having them actively look for ways the office, job site, and even the office parking lot can be safer.
  • Make sure goals can be measured and tracked – Make sure your goals are SMART. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based. When behavior and goals fall within this SMART goal model, they can be measured, tracked, and clearly explained, and employees are more likely to participate and have successful outcomes.
  • Make incentives personal – Having incentives linked to an individual employee’s behavior, as opposed to a team, has shown to have more positive results and increased motivation among employees. Team incentives can often cause animosity if there are poor performing or unmotivated employees.

What To Avoid

  • Outcome-based criteria – When you reward someone for an outcome (i.e. not having an accident) you will often end up with employees that are tempted to lie in order to achieve the desired goal. When it comes to adhering to safety, the last thing you want from your incentive program is for employees to lie or cover up an accident in order to earn a reward. Instead reward with individual behavior-based activities, which will encourage people to work harder on positive behaviors.
  • Being too broad – Incentives should be linked to specific behaviors which are clearly defined and indicate exactly how employees would be eligible for the incentive. Be cautious not to have specific behaviors that are based on external factors, such as an overall reduction of incident rates. It could be the result of behavior, but could also be the result of not reporting injuries.
  • Making new reward criteria harder to obtain – When old safety incentive criteria are replaced, make the new incentives criteria the same or even easier to obtain. Make sure to notify all employees of the change and plan criteria so that everyone is on the same page and working towards a common goal.

However you decide to implement your incentive program, remember keeping things positive will go a long way.

Next, The Incentives

Just announcing that you will be offering incentives for safe behavior is not enough. Incentives must be thoughtful, genuine, meaningful, and worth achieving.  For some, a heartfelt pat on the back can be enough of a motivating factor. The key is paying attention to your employees and getting to know them on a deeper level. Maybe John in dispatch drinks coffee every morning, or Kate loves flowers in the office; getting in tune with your employees can make deciding on incentives choices easier. Here are some incentive ideas that typically work well for employees.

  • Gift cards – In any industry, gift cards are one of the most popular reward and incentive choices. Gift cards are highly customizable and can be tailored to your employees. Perhaps it’s a gift card to their favorite casual dining restaurant, or to a high-end store that your employee loves to shop at but typically cannot afford to; gift cards open up a large selection of options that can have a long-lasting effect. Reward preferences change so you can also setup your incentive program so that employees can pick and choose from a variety of available gift cards that pique their interest at the time they are rewarded.
  • Personal recognition – Often employees just want to be recognized for their hard work and adherence to safety programs. An awesome example was from the president of Dairy Mart at an annual safety recognition banquet: “The president made me give him a 5-by-8 card with the name of each driver, the department he worked in, how many years he was safe, his wife’s name, his kids’ names and any other special notes about that driver that the president wanted to bring up for instance, ‘his boy hit a home run during the big game,'” Hanson said, adding that the president reviewed the cards in advance and kept them on his lectern for the awards presentation.” Now these men are Teamsters. These are real men, no babies, no sissies. And they’re hauling these 48-foot trailers all over the place, which is dangerous work … And he melted them like candy.”
  • Special office perks – An extra hour or two off for your employee to see their kid play baseball, getting to come into the office an hour later than usual, working the day from home, catered lunch at the office, or dinner out with coworkers are just some ideas of incentives that go a long way.

One Last Thing

OSHA’s Intentions For Safety Incentive Programs

OSHA plans on implementing a ban on Incident-based Safety Incentive programs on Nov. 1, as part of “Improving Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses”.  In short, this ban, originally scheduled to have taken place on August 10, has been met with criticism and legal injunction by industry professionals. The plaintiffs against OSHA have claimed that OSHA views incident-based safety incentive programs as retaliatory in nature, when in fact, these types of programs can actually make the workplace safer and should be promoted by OSHA.  We will keep you updated here on any updates to this ongoing case.


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Want To Dig Deeper Into Safety Incentive Programs?

Download Creating a Successful Safety Incentive Program to learn more about how using safety incentive programs increases engagement and how rewards work for your employees.


Topics: Incentives & Rewards, Uncategorized, Safety Incentives

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