Prior to the 1880s, little is known about safety conditions in the workplace. In 1893 Congress passed the Safety Appliance Act, which mandated the use of newly developed equipment that decreased the risk of train-related accidents and deaths. For the railroads, this not only improved safety but also increased productivity. It was the first federal law intended primarily to improve work safety, and by 1900, accidents to trainmen had dramatically decreased.

In 1913, the National Safety Council was founded for companies to share information. By the 1960s, rising injury rates and economic expansion became the catalyst for establishing OSHA. Although controversial at times, OSHA and other agencies have helped to educate and provide resources to companies which have contributed to the continuing workplace accidents after 1970.

Fast track to 2017. While increasing profits and lowering costs are still primary business goals; history and research have shown it is less expensive to support incentive programs that promote safety education and compliance than it is to dismiss them. Occupational injuries and illnesses cost businesses a $170 billion a year according to OSHA, these costs dramatically impact the companies’ profits.

Why are they beneficial?

A recent Gallup study showed that the top 25 percent of engaged companies see 70 percent fewer safety incidents than businesses that are not engaged. Incentive programs positively impact productivity, morale, leadership and cost reductions. The latest EHS State of the Nation survey ranked “building and maintaining a safety culture” as the No. 1 priority for 2017. Incentive programs, when correctly implemented, are effective and engaging resources to achieve this goal.

OSHA has described attributes of safety programs as follows, “A positive (safety) incentive program encourages or rewards workers for reporting injuries, illnesses, near-misses, or hazards; and/or recognizes, rewards, and thereby encourages worker involvement in the safety and health management system.”

Primary outcomes of safety programs are not only to prevent accidents by eliminating conditions and behaviors that can contribute to unforeseen losses but to also foster teamwork and contribute value and well-being to the company’s culture. Crafting a balanced safety incentive program will reinforce engagement and awareness for the organization's safety culture.

Creating programs

Begin by identifying the desired short- and long-term goals. Establish a budget. For an incentive or reward to motivate the desired change, it must be perceived as valuable to the recipient. Incentive programs don’t have to be elaborate or expensive to be effective. Small, on-going rewards will continually reinforce the importance of safety awareness. Gift cards to a coffee shop or restaurant, movie tickets, or a spa service have high perceived value.

If you choose to go bigger with web-based employee portals and higher reward values, the program costs could potentially be offset by the cost-savings generated by the reduction in worker’s comp claims, absenteeism due to illness and injury, reduced health insurance and equipment replacement costs.

Identify internal resources and advocates. A “safety first” mentality starts at the top. Active participation from the CEO, via one-on-one time or company-wide recognition, reinforces the importance of the program to the company.  Program managers need to be able to administer and communicate the details clearly and provide both short term and long term goals that will quickly engage employees and keep them motivated. Individual and team incentives are considerations along with the type of rewards given. Compliance and regulatory mandates, type of industry, job functionalities and responsibilities are all important variables when formulating your incentive strategy.

Balanced Safety Incentive programs include categories and components that help you measure and recognize leading indicators (proactive engagement) combined with lagging indicators (past performance). For example:

  • Safe Working Environment: accident-free month, safety meeting participation, recognition for proactive safety measures.
  • Safety Ambassadors: peer recognition, identifying unsafe factors and creating safety improvements.
  • Safety Engagement: “spot” awards, “team player,” “above and beyond” safety awareness and behavior.
  • Proactive Hazzard Identification: reporting accidents or “oops” moments, participation in safety audits, complete & pass safety training & awareness classes.

Rewards and recognition matter

Choosing the most meaningful reward and its presentation is essential to garner the most engagement from participants fully. The most efficient form of recognition is tailored to the recipient’s personality. An introvert would not want to stand on a stage or in front of a group to receive an award. These individuals would benefit more from one on one time with the CEO, or a scaled down version of mass recognition via virtual methods like a newsletter or intranet. Extroverts, on the other hand, thrive on the public attention and are motivated by the rush they receive.

Creating successful programs that incorporate all the best practices for engagement, choosing the right reward, personalized recognition presentations that are regulatory compliant can be daunting. However, launching a program without these essential elements could hurt safety compliance and morale.

Fortunately, there is an abundance of resources available to help the planning, implementation, execution and measurement of your programs a “walk in the park” versus a “run across hot coals.”