Feature Article - March/April 2019

Safety First

Structured Programs Help Meet Safety Goals

By Deborah L. Vence

Workplace safety should be every company's priority, with the goal of ensuring the health and well-being of all employees. To help carry out safety goals and initiatives, companies can implement incentives to motivate employees and strengthen the safety messaging.

The Ins and Outs

"First and foremost, a safety incentive program is about improving the engagement levels of safety-sensitive employees," said Brian Galonek, CPIM, president, All Star Incentive Marketing, a company that specializes in recognition and rewards programs.

"The simple fact is that you cannot change human behavior until you have an engaged audience, and while a small part of any workforce is naturally engaged and intrinsically motivated, the majority are not. That majority represents the opportunity size for a well-structured safety incentive program," he said.

"The programs are used to capture the attention of the workforce and to get them more engaged by structuring a program around employee recognition (which most employees crave) and around a rewards platform that captures their attention. Once you have that," he added, "you have an opportunity to get the safety messaging through and to build the safety-related 'muscle memory' that will lead to goals being surpassed and to a positive ROI."

A wide variety of initiatives, rewards, structures and other details are included in incentive programs.

"Safety incentive programs can be created to support specific workplace initiatives, and depending on an employer's program objectives, there are multiple variations to choose from," said Theresa McEndree, vice president of marketing at Blackhawk Network, a global financial technology company in Pleasanton, Calif.

To be successful, however, safety incentive programs should be able to check the following boxes:

  • Promotes well-defined actions.
  • Motivates employees to achieve stretch goals.
  • Has milestones to keep employees engaged and working toward long-term goals.
  • Produces measurable outcomes.
  • Incorporates rewards that employees find motivating.

"It's typically best for employers to familiarize themselves with all of the options that are available to accommodate the diverse lifestyles and preferences of their employees," McEndree said. "One of the easiest ways to do that is for employers to find a reward partner that can help shape their program strategy and help deliver the most effective rewards."

Brant Dolan, CPIM, director of business development, Quality Incentive Company, which designs and delivers incentive, reward and recognition programs, suggested that establishing a "safety culture" from the top down should be the first in line.

"Safety needs to be set as an expectation, with a passion behind it. It's not optional," he said. "It needs a task force dedicated to the cause with various departmental inputs, safety director input and employee input. It needs to strive for consistency and a promise of accountability for sustaining a course. It needs to seek to establish a set of key performance indicators, methods to measure, and reports to create a set of analytics.

"The program should address departments as well as individual roles and responsibilities with clear and precise procedural requirements," Dolan added. "Routine review processes and flexibility to adjust as needed should be a standard. All programs need a communications campaign, in a verbal manner, visual manner and constant reinforcement via an employee web portal or standalone site."

And, the employer, if possible, should extend the messaging and awareness to family members.

First and foremost, a safety incentive program is about improving the engagement levels of safety-sensitive employees.

"Being safe at home and in public can affect attendance in the workplace as well," he said. "If the program is online, as most are these days, it should be easily viewed and navigated. And, because it may be online, this 'tech' approach needs to be complemented with 'touch' tactics along the way. Lastly, it should focus on the process of safe behavior and training, not merely quantitative measures."

Donna Chrobak, vice president, sales and marketing, Summit Recognition Solutions, a company that specializes in recognition, engagement and incentive solutions, noted information from the 2018 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index that stated that "Workplace injuries and accidents that cause employees to miss six or more days of work cost U.S. employers nearly $60 billion in 2015."

"That's more than $1 billion a week! You can see why employers take workplace safety so seriously," she said.

"While safety incentive programs or safety recognition as Summit Recognition Solutions refers to them can be an effective tool to motivate workplace safety," she said, "it is important to understand the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines that regulate how these programs can operate."

Employers, for example, must inform employees of their right to report work-related injuries and illnesses free from retaliation by their employer.

"As this rule applies to safety recognition programs, you do not want to discourage employees from reporting workplace injuries by rewarding them, for example, for having no workplace injuries during a specific period of time," Chrobak said. "Safety programs should be carefully designed not to penalize employees for reporting work-related injuries or illnesses. Instead, they should promote the reporting of workplace safety incidents, and reward behaviors that preempt accidents and promote workplace safety."

In the fall of 2018, OSHA clarified its position on safety incentive programs, which the incentive industry deemed as a positive statement.

According to OSHA, "The department believes that many employers who implement safety incentive programs and/or conduct post-incident drug testing do so to promote workplace safety and health. In addition, evidence that the employer consistently enforces legitimate work rules (whether or not an injury or illness is reported) would demonstrate that the employer is serious about creating a culture of safety, not just the appearance of reducing rates. Action taken under a safety incentive program or post-incident drug testing policy would only violate OSHA's rules if the employer took the action to penalize an employee for reporting a work-related injury or illness rather than for the legitimate purpose of promoting workplace safety and health."