Truth about Safety
Potter, CSP, CMC and Deb Potter, PhD
of the millions of dollars companies spend every year on safety
incentive programs, research shows that injuries continue to occur.
Additionally, such programs often actually demotivate
employees, at best yielding diminishing returns over time. Does your
organization have one of the following ineffective safety incentive
programs or something similar?
Lotto!: In some companies, the names of those employees who
work without a recordable injury are entered in a lottery-like
drawing for great prizes, like exotic vacations or a new pick-up
truck. The result is one very happy winner and a lot of
disappointed losers. Talk about demotivation.
bank on it: Another popular incentive program is like giving
every employee a checkbook full of withdrawals but no deposits.
Each worker begins the year with a “safety fund.” Every time a
recordable injury occurs to anyone in the company, a specific
amount is subtracted from every employee’s “account.” At the
end of the year, employees receive the remaining balance as a
bonus. As a result, employees look for targets to blame – often
their co-workers or management – as their bonuses decrease.
Because they’re usually busy pointing fingers at others for
their smaller bonuses, employees working under this kind of
incentive system rarely pause to consider what their own role
could be in the effort to reduce injuries.
points: Other companies dole out incentives based on a points
system. Employees accumulate points by attending safety meetings,
participating on safety committees, successfully completing
audits, submitting near-miss reports, etc. Management deducts
points for injuries or vehicle incidents. Employees receive
monetary rewards based on their accumulated points. The problem
with this system is that employees often feel as if they have no
control over the outcome. As a result, employees and supervisors
tend to under-report or play games with the numbers, so no one
trusts the outcome.
most organizations that have adopted these and other forms of safety
incentive programs find that the results are significantly less than
they hoped for. The programs can be costly and, in the long run, do
not typically result in a reduction of injury rates. Rather than try
to “buy” your employees’ commitment to safety, consider these
techniques to engage everyone to take personal responsibility for
1. Make safety a core value:
needs to be as important to your organization as production and
profits are. Let employees know that no job is so important that it
should be done at personal risk. Start every meeting with an update
from a safety contact.
2. Commit management to worker safety:
executives, managers, and supervisors are actively engaged in the
organization’s safety efforts, employees will notice. Leaders can
demonstrate their commitment to safety by following the company’s
safe work procedures, listening to and acting upon employees’
concerns, and participating in safety meetings.
3. Involve employees in the safety process:
employees to take part in making your workplace safe by including them
in safety committees, inspections, accident investigations, and safety
suggestion programs. Give them time to participate during their
regular work hours and recognize their efforts.
4. Set high expectations for safe behavior:
shows that employees will usually work hard to meet their managers’
and supervisors’ expectations, so among those stated expectations
must be safe behavior: everyone will follow safety procedures and wear
appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). Managers and
supervisors should also expect employees to identify, control, and
report all hazards found in the workplace.
5. Allow employees to set their own goals:
incentive programs develop around corporate safety objectives, but
employees may resist the proclamations of executives or managers,
especially if the workers consider management to be out of touch with
their day-to-day experiences. However, employees will respond more
positively to setting their own goals. Give them the autonomy to do
this and encourage them to make it a personal aim to go home each day
in Motivation, not Incentives:
most creative incentive program won’t get you the results you want:
greater worker safety and less lost time due to injury. Safety
incentive programs take money out of your company’s bottom-line
without a significant or sustainable return on your investment. So
instead make motivation a priority for executives, managers, and
supervisors. Get them to commit to investing their time and effort to
improving their safety and encourage workers to do the same. That way,
each individual becomes responsible, not only for their own safety,
but also for that of everyone in the organization.
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and Deb Potter.
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