Feature Article - January/February 2015

Safe at Work

Using Incentives to Foster Best Practices in Workplace Safety

By Rick Dandes

Safety incentive programs have been around for many years as a valuable performance tool in labor-intensive industries such as manufacturing, helping companies focus their workers on performing strenuous work in healthy and safe ways. But these days, with the increased focus on team and individual wellness due to escalating health care costs, businesses of all types and sizes are realizing that having a sound safety incentive program makes good common business sense, and offers a good return on investment.

But, like any poorly designed incentive program, if the safety incentive program is not designed properly, there can be unintended consequences—and as such, be "dis-incenting." The most controversial elements of safety programs, explained Rick Blabolil, president of Marketing Innovators in Rosemont, Ill., "have been the failure to report an incident or accident, and the potential for retaliation by superiors for the reporting of an incident or accident." Legislation and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) continue to make watching for this a priority.

"I once had a client who had an employee who slipped and fell," explained Sean Roark, vice president, Promo Pros, Houston, addressing Blabolil's comments. "And during the deposition phase, a lawyer representing the employee asked if he didn't think that a safety improvement program encouraged underreporting. Due to the specifics of his very well-planned program, the employer was able to say, 'No, we find that reporting goes up because one of the things we do in our safety program is reward employees for filing a report, for assisting in investigations and other things that we consider to be best practices.'"

In having such a program, this company was not just paying lip service to the idea that you reward safety practices; they put money behind incenting their employees to report potentially hazardous practices.

"I want to emphasize that I am not speaking about safety incentive programs as a legal defense," Roark said. "But when something makes common sense, it is often good for business, and in this case it was a legitimate legal defense. There are people who don't want to do an incentive program because they are afraid of an OSHA audit saying they failed to file a report." But an audit can also show that a team can lose a huge number of points if a team member fails to file and that the safety program produces great results and a terrific return on investment.

Let's accept as a given that employers want their employees to be safe and avoid injury. It is in management's interest to encourage staff to follow the established standard operating procedures and safety regulations. In other words, the employer wants employees to do the right thing because it's good business. In return, many safety experts realize the effectiveness of encouraging employees by providing incentive programs that recognize the pursuit of using best practices and active compliance with corporate procedures and goals. A very efficient and reliable way to do this is to make sure you have a well-designed, well-managed incentive program.