This article takes a look at how a safety incentive program can be integrated into traditional strategies to achieve safety success. First, let's talk about the "3Es", the commonly accepted strategies of engineering, education, and enforcement. They succeed when top managers faithfully and continually commit to these goals:
  • To ultimately eliminate or at least control all environmental hazards and human errors; and
  • To reduce safety-related problems stemming from cost-containment, litigation, compliance, and techno-stress.


Engineering strategies aim to eliminate unsafe acts, workplace hazards, and job-related stresses by focusing on the mechanical/physical work environment. Some safety professionals now suggest that engineering should be replaced by ergonomics as the first "E" of safety strategies. Ergonomics, as you probably have learned, is the science of designing the workplace to fit the capabilities of workers. Each workstation is structured to be consistent with the unique mental, physical, and emotional limitations of the operator assigned to that station. Whether the "E" here represents engineering or ergonomics, working to make the environment safe is typically the first strategy used in safety.


This is either a formal or informal attempt to bring about desired behavioral changes, or at least to modify behavior traits, and to promote safe performances and attitudes. Education normally follows engineering or ergonomic controls, but in fact it compliments those efforts. Education is really a never-ending effort to upgrade all employees' safety performances.


The focus here is on achieving compliance as mandated by various regulatory agencies, and as expected by top management. Typical methods range from mild reprisals to terminating reprimands.

The next step

Where do methods involving safety incentive programs fit in? Let's add a fourth "E" and call it "encouragement". Safety incentives encourage employees and employer representatives to realistically contribute to the same goals targeted by the first three Es: Safe performances, safe operating conditions, and minimized stress. The ultimate goal is zero recordable injuries and illnesses.

There are several keys to the effectiveness of an incentive program:

1. Management commitment

Managers must commit credible and sufficient resources to any incentive program. The road to results begins with resources. Simply put, management backing is the key ingredient. Managers must put up the resources, including the time it takes to plan and execute a program. And managers must give something else˜the power to employees to run the program.

2. Employee ownership

First, employees must understand the mission, why the incentive program is being launched. They must be convinced that the recognition system chosen is appropriate for the sacrifices that will be expected in order to achieve the program's goals. The way you do this, and get "buy-in" at the same time, is to give employees ownership of the program. Employees must have the opportunity to make decisions and exert control over the program's direction.

3. Recognized value

Any materialistic awards and rewards must be valued by all participants. A recognition system begins to falter when employees start thinking their actions are being insulted by inconsequential incentives.

4. Fairness

Each and every participant must believe that the system of recognition is just and objective. To achieve this end, employees themselves should participate in selecting incentive recipients. They should also be involved in drafting selection criteria.

5. Simplicity

Your entire incentive process must be thoroughly maintained with a minimum of administrative effort. Keep it simple. Any system that requires either excessive management control or exceptional employee understanding won't get the desired results.

6. Consistency

Most of all, a safety incentive program cannot succeed unless it connects with the needs and expectations of the workforce. The program must be designed and administered in a way that reflects employees' values, work ethic, and socio-economic status. It must be perceived as having value, dignity, and meaning.

When incentive programs run aground, it's usually because the program was too complicated, and/or the wrong incentives were chosen. Let's now take a look at the types of incentives that can be used. Remember, employees˜not employers˜should recommend what's to be given as recognition, and also the criteria for selecting recipients.


Here we're talking about plaques, certificates, memorabilia, and apparel. These are often used in the early stages of a program to recognize small, short-term accomplishments.

This common application of awards also points up their shortcoming: Recipients might dismiss them as cheap tokens symbolic of only minor achievements. So be careful how you use awards. Don't over-use them, or you risk creating more negative than positive feelings.


Employees readily will take the money and run because cash gives them the freedom to decide how to reward themselves, in effect. They can buy what they want. A problem crops up, though, when you try to decide how to disburse cash incentives in a way that all employees will view as fair, objective, and acceptable. Feelings run high when there's money to be had.

One solution is to return to employees part, if not all, of the monetary savings resulting from achieving the safety goal. One of the more successful methods is to return savings realized from reduced insurance premiums, especially workers' compensation savings. This method is easily administered by management and easily understood by employees. Its objectivity can be demonstrated through typical company records. Other methods of rewarding meritorious employee performance can be based on increased profits resulting from fewer manufacturing defects, improved productivity reflecting value-added processes, and reduced overhead costs.


Prizes offer many opportunities to satisfy and excite employees, depending on what the workforce deems enjoyable, credible, and worthwhile.

Prizes can be given to an extended group of recipients, such as awarding vacations to employees and their spouses and families. You can also issue prizes in the name of employees to their favorite schools, churches, and charities.

If you're going to present prizes to individuals, again, it's important to select gifts that can be used and appreciated. Note that word used. What happens if an employee and his family are awarded a trip, but a family member gets sick and the trip gets canceled? You should have a prize of equal value available.

Compensatory recognition

This recognition is similar to monetary awards, except it's private. Common examples are giving employees bonuses, additional pay, time off, or flex time. But be careful, these incentives can spur on competition and destroy teamwork.

Safety incentive programs are a justifiable safety strategy, if the goals are realistic and the program is administered fairly. You need management support and the participation of all employees. Finally, success depends on distributing a large portion of the savings realized by reaching your goals to the workforce.