Monday, February 23, 2015

The Safety Incentive Program Trap


OSHA tends to frown on Safety incentive programs for various reasons. They are often fraught with problems in that they can create a disincentive to report injuries or near miss incidents which can lead to unsafe conditions not being reported and corrected. The suppression of accidents skews the city’s safety statistics leading to problems and safety issues not getting fixed or addressed. The incentive programs also have a tendency to get stale and lead to a reduction in participation by the employees. In the case of a program which has a monetary bonus or incentive tied to it, it can create of sense of entitlement over time which leads to pressure from co-workers on other employees to suppress accidents and the reporting of unsafe conditions.
 

Most of the incentive programs are based on “lagging indicators”. Lagging indicator programs tally up the past accidents, incidents and near misses and reward employees if the accidents are reduced in the future. The programs can be structured several ways such as total number of employees, separate departments or teams. If the accident rate lowers over time the employees are rewarded in various ways such as cash bonuses, prizes, lunches, etc.

 
These lagging indicator programs based on teams or departments can put pressure on employees to not report accidents, injuries and near misses for fear of causing the team or department to not get the incentive. This failure to report injuries and accidents defeats the purpose of a pro-active safety program.  It can mask accident data and unsafe conditions which would normally lead to improvements in the safety programs and a safer workplace.

 
The alternative to lagging indicator programs is leading indicator programs. Leading indicator programs are put in place to promote safety and safe work practices by rewarding employees for safety related behaviors and activities rather than for results. These incentive programs are set up for employees to be rewarded for things such as reporting safety violations, making safety suggestions, taking steps to correct unsafe situations and conditions, participating in safety training programs and volunteering for and participating on safety committees. The purpose of these program is to change the safety culture among employees so that over time the increased safety awareness and practice will lead to lower accident and injury rates through more pro-active safety program and culture.

 
Participation by employees can be a challenge for any incentive program. Administration of the program takes concerted effort by management and requires full participation, commitment and support from administration by improving safety programs, supporting changes in the operations, improving unsafe conditions where suggestions are made, and supporting the adoption and purchase of safety tools and equipment where needed.

By Paul Gladen

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