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3 Crucial Elements for Performance-Based Rewards in Safety Programs

Posted, by Deborah Merkin
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Incentives are a popular tool used in safety programs to reduce the frequency of workplace injury and accidents.

Since 1999, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has broken incentives into two main categories: outcome-based and performance-based. Specifically, OSHA criticizes the use of outcome-based incentives for its ability to discourage reporting and promote unethical behaviors.

OSHA is the leading authority on workplace safety, so their stance and resulting regulations are important to know when designing your incentive program for success.

The Difference Between Outcome-based & Performance-based Incentives

Outcome-based incentives focus on rewarding an end result, such as a month or quarter without any injuries or accidents. Seemingly harmless, these kinds of rewards are actually being criticized for their potential to be misused by employers. By focusing primarily on an outcome—X number of days without incident—workers could feel pressured to keep quiet about injuries and accidents because they don’t want their coworkers to miss out on the reward on their behalf.

Performance-based incentives, on the other hand, shift the focus to rewarding specific behaviors, such as reporting a potential hazard or volunteering to serve on a safety committee. Workers in turn learn how to change their approach and actions to be safer without feeling discouraged to report accidents.

But not everyone agrees with OSHA’s stance. Sean Roark, CPIM, who just completed his term as president of IMA last year, said in an interview with OHS that OSHA’s position “completely disregards all of the independent studies that show that engaging an employee by showing gratitude and appreciation after the fact for excellent performance is one of the single greatest game changers in improving morale and changing behaviors.”

What This Means for Your Safety Program

Design is key. A well-designed and thought out incentive program produces way better results than a poorly designed one and may save you from a regulatory, and costly, headache. Here are three key questions to ask yourself about your safety program’s design and the rewards you offer.

1. What are you encouraging with rewards?

With the right incentives, your workers will put in the effort it takes to receive the reward. That effect makes incentives a powerful tool in your program. Examine what you are asking your workers to do to earn the reward and consider if it:

  • is performance-focused or outcome-focused,
  • discourages honest feedback from workers, or
  • is a quick solution or a change in your workplace culture.

2. How do you make room for worker feedback?

Tracking safety issues is an integral part of making a workplace safer, so you need feedback from your workers to fully understand your workplace’s safety needs.

You could collect feedback from employees through questionnaires and surveys, hold open forums, and interactive workshops that focus on safety protocol, all while giving rewards or reward points for participating in these important initiatives. 

If you’re worried about under-reporting, you could consider implementing performance-based bonus points for promptly and properly reporting an injury or accident.

3. What kinds of rewards are you using?

Not everyone is the same. Some people value certain types of rewards over others, and it may seem difficult to find something that appeals to everyone.

Doing your research on your audience is important for finding the incentives that are custom-fit and will motivate your desired action, maximize engagement and potentially save lives.

Some of the most popular incentives are experiential—like taking trips or going out to eat with friends and family—because they integrate seamlessly into workers’ lives and promote positive memories. Last year, over 60% of U.S. businesses used gift cards in their rewards programs, which isn’t surprising. Rewards like gift cards are flexible, come in a variety of categories, and offer a budget-friendly way for employers to reach a larger, more diverse audience.

These are just a few things to consider when designing your program for success. What do you think about OSHA’s stance towards outcome-based incentives? Leave us a comment down below.


If you are looking to increase participation in your safety program, catch our new strategy eBook Using Safety Incentives to Increase Participation.


Topics: Safety Incentives, Gift Card Programs

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