There is an ongoing debate whether incentives are being used as an addition to a well-designed safety program or being deployed in lieu of a comprehensive safety program. Incentives should enhance a functional safety program that contains such areas as: return-to-work (RTW), accident investigations, and safety committees. 

Who should be the target of your safety program?

Too often incentive programs target the wrong group of people. The vast majority of your people will work safely the majority of the time, with or without incentives. It may be surprising, but up to 25 percent of your people may need a constant reminder of how to work safely. Safety is and should be a full-time focus for everyone – all the time. This means that the comprehensive program should include a multi-leveled program. It becomes part of the culture, and everyone involved in the safety process participates including top management, supervisors, and employees.

Safety incentive programs are intended to reduce accidents, incidents and injuries and minimize workers’ compensation costs. But getting these results requires a process focusing not just on the individual’s safety, but also encouraging increased attendance at safety meetings and/or soliciting safety suggestions from workers. This creates a balance of reducing injuries while also combining activities that support a culture of interaction and collaboration regarding prevention and objectives. 

Group activities can be used to encompass safety training. The key is to foster the behaviors that are proactive towards safety, and subsequently a reduction in lost-time injury should follow. 

The structure of a safety incentive program should be very explicit. Clear and consistent communication is critical to the success of the program. Emphasize the fact that the safety program is much more than an incentive program. It entails turning the serious subject of safety into a relatively engaging one, while preventing injuries and saving lives. It should stress the importance of reporting each and every claim, and the fact that it is not only corporate policy, but also the law. 

So how often should you reward safety?

It seems only reasonable that if safety is a daily top priority, it should be awarded as frequently as possible. Long-term programs that award employees for working a year without a lost-time injury can create bad behaviors. Programs that reset, and “everyone loses” if there is an accident after a long stretch of being injury-free can foster underreporting. As an alternative, consider rewarding results monthly or even weekly. If you want proactive, safe, daily behavior, then it should be recognized accordingly. No doubt, you can still have semi- annual or annual targets, but this should be one aspect of the comprehensive program rather than the sole focus.

Designing the best program, adding the right mix of awards that are meaningful to your specific audience, and including the human connection of people talking with people (socially recognizing and literally giving people a pat on the back), are critical elements of a well-conceived and comprehensive safety incentive program.