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How to Create an Effective Safety Incentive Program in Your Workplace
By William Cowie
Safety incentive programs are contentious tools in the world of work health and safety. They have the potential to be seriously detrimental to workplace health and safety if poorly planned and implemented. If done well, they can be a key component of a long-term health and safety culture. We’ve previously explored the pros and cons of such a scheme in our article, Safety Incentive Programs – Genius or Disaster?
The rewards for good safety in the workplace are huge – Liberty Mutual Institute for Safety claims that for every $1 they spend on workplace health and safety, they save at least $3 – but failure can be ugly and expensive. If you’re considering implementing an incentive scheme to promote safety in your workplace then you need to know how to create an effective program.
1. Have a complete safety plan first
A safety incentive program is not a magical silver bullet that will solve all the health and safety issues at your workplace. It is just one component of a properly functioning and complete safety program.
Employees will not suddenly start using safe practices and procedures because they’ll be rewarded. They still need effective training to know what tasks and expectations are required of them at work. If workers don’t have proper training and an effective safety framework in place, then the scheme simply becomes an incentive to lie and cover up accidents and injuries.
Before you consider a work health and safety incentive scheme, make sure you already have effective processes in place: training, equipment, reporting, management, dialogue with management and workers, and continuous risk assessments and controls. The incentive program is then an effective tool to remind workers of the training and education they have had, or should have had, for the job.
2. Examine WHS performance before, during, and after the program
Check your incident rate before you try to implement safety incentives. If your rates are higher than average, it’s a good indication that you need to work on your basic health and safety practices. Adding an incentive scheme in this situation will simply encourage under-reporting of incidents.
Once you’ve got everything in order, your pre-incentive incident rates can be used as a baseline for success (provided the scheme is functioning properly). You’ll be able to see how well it’s working time and if it’s succeeding in its objectives. You can then go back, review and adjust your program to improve the results.
3. Communicate with management and employees
Both groups are key stakeholders in any safety program. Management must believe the program will be effective and be willing to follow through with the rewards and incentives they’ve promised. If management won’t stand behind it, then employees will (perhaps rightfully) believe it doesn’t matter.
Workers need to feel like they’re owners of the scheme too, not just complying with orders from above. Developing trust in the scheme can be achieved through opening up lines of communication and getting employees to invest in how the scheme is set up and run. They must also believe they actually have a shot at achieving the tasks or standards required to win a reward or they’re unlikely to support the program.
4. Carefully structure the rewards
Goals have to be clearly defined and measurable, set at just the right levels. Too high and workers will fail early, or immediately dismiss the scheme, and no longer participate. If it’s too easy to hit goals, then there is no incentive to excel or change behaviours, and nothing will be achieved. Don’t just reward successes either; reward the behaviours that lead to a safe and healthy workplace.
Employees must also want the rewards; incentives need to be selected to suit their desires. Picking the right work health and safety incentives might appear easy. Money seems like an obvious choice; yet time off can be a much greater motivator. The right gift certificates, goods or services can be highly desirable – store attendants might admire the goods they sell, while factory workers might covet the items they create every day. Work lunches and parties might be important for closely knit teams. In many cases, the rewards might don’t need to have material value; the prestige and recognition of good work and success is reward enough.
Examples of real-life safety incentive programs
Non-reporting is only an issue if the program is poorly designed and implemented. These real life examples of incentive programs have overcome that problem by using novel approaches that reward participation in safety, without punishing failure.
Overcoming non-reporting of accidents (courtesy of “lindasobota”)
Rather than punishing accidents by taking away bonuses, simply focus on what people are doing right for work health and safety.
In one example, a WHS officer created a ‘safety dollars’ program, giving out credits to people who have participated in good work health and safety practices. Safe behaviour, suggestions, hazard recognition, training attendance and other positive actions are rewarded with ‘safety dollars’ handed out on the spot.
Every quarter, the organisation holds a silent auction where people can use those credits to bid on prizes, or save them to bid at the next auction. That way no one is ‘punished’ for accidents and there is incentive for everyone to participate in accident prevention.
Fostering a team safety spirit (courtesy of “kreig”)
Another workplace built their incentive program around the concept of “kaizen”. Kaizen, if you’re not aware, is a Japanese word which means “improvement” or “change for the better”. It encompasses a philosophy of continuous improvement, and is commonly used in industries like manufacturing, engineering and business management.
If done correctly, kaizen can humanise the workplace, eliminate excessively hard work and teaches people to perform their own experiments using scientific method and eliminates waste. Toyota in Japan has one of the most famous “kaizen” cultures if you’re interested in learning more.
In this safety context, it involves finding and eliminating safety hazards, then submitting a report. Each department is a team, and at the end of the month, the team who has achieved the most kaizen, wins the prize. The WHS officer reported only 3-5 kaizen were submitted in the first month, but it quickly exploded and 73 reports were submitted in one month alone. That’s 73 hazards identified and eliminated.
Game and shame (courtesy of “safetystu”)
One innovative safety officer designed a scheme as a ‘Survivor’ style competition, based on the TV series. Each group was assigned a tribal name and could earn points by turning in various safety tasks. Importantly, teams were rewarded for what they did for safety, not punished for incidents.
At the end of the month, the manager of the poorest performing group had to wear a grass skirt to the management meeting, and their photograph was displayed in the cafeteria until the next month. This provided a huge incentive for managers to participate, as they didn’t want to wear the skirt. Teams were motivated to keep their tribe on top. At the end, the winning tribe was awarded a t-shirt, saying they’d survived the island, to commemorate their achievement.
There is a great thread with more health and safety ideas at Safety.BLR.com
Create your own incentive program
It seems the secret of a successful program is to reward contribution, behaviour and success, rather than creating a program that punishes people for being the victims of workplace accidents. You too can create your own fun, innovative safety program and elevate safety in your workplace. Just don’t forget to build on solid foundations and track your progress!
If you come up with an awesome idea or have had been successful with one of these schemes in the past, we’d love to hear from you and share news of your victory with the world!
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