Focus on proactive safety efforts

With today's rapid turnover in management, it's entirely possible for managers to cycle through a production job assignment with little or no contribution to improving the safety system and without having a serious injury in their area of responsibility. Thus, rewards based on injury and illness can be a problem in fairly evaluating managerial safety performance.

If an organization expects to have a "world class safety system," managers must be held accountable for more than after-the-fact results. They must also be held accountable for how safety results are obtained. With this in mind, contests should be based on "proactive" safety performance criteria. They should be based on improving the safety system. For example, a contest might be based on completing a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or implementing an equipment inspection system. This is consistent with total quality concepts of continually improving the system.

Link to individual behavior

It is not unusual for persons to receive safety contest awards that have little to do with their actual safety behavior. Contests such as "safety bingo" and "guess when a safety milestone will be reached," have nothing to do with individual contributions to safety and add little to improving the safety system or improving safety behaviors.

Awards should go to those who exhibit safe behavior or otherwise demonstrate proactive support of the safety system. Examples of behavior-based safety contests include wearing personal protective equipment, correcting unsafe conditions or exhibiting safety leadership.

One such example of a behavior-based safety contest was entitled, "Building a Safety Foundation." This contest was used in a plant that was in the process of implementing a behavior-based safety management system. The contest consisted of 50 building blocks. Each block was assigned a value, depending upon the level of difficulty. A "building inspector" would review the completed blocks to ensure quality. All employees in the department were expected to participate and a token reward was given to those teams that completed their safety foundation.

Emphasize team improvements

Awards should be based on group efforts that support continuous improvement of the safety system. This could include activities such as developing or revising department or team safe practices or maintaining high percentages of safe behavior in safety sampling audits over a specified period of time.

One contest I'm familiar with utilized a baseball theme and was based on points that could be earned by a work team for completing certain safety activities. Activities included involvement by employees in setting department safety goals, completion of incident investigation reports within a specified period (10 points were deducted for each day the report was late), correcting a longtime safety problem, and so on. Each team could accumulate 1,000 points over a 50-day period. The overall site "championship team" was awarded two tickets per player for a Yankee or Mets game of their choice.

Don't cover up

Excessive reliance on contests and promotions is often associated with organizations lacking well-defined safety systems. These organizations are ripe for relying on contests and gimmicks. In all probability they will experience a measure of success by using contests and get hooked. They might even develop some contests that are fun and that claim to improve safety awareness."

But these kinds of contests can simply be diversions from addressing the "gut," long-term issues that enable the organization to put a solid safety system in place. The net result can be safety system paralysis rather than continuous improvement!

Don't overdo it

Promotions, contests and gimmicks are frequently associated with safety efforts. This is one reason the safety function is viewed by many as unprofessional. Safety should be integrated into the work system and utilize the same reward/punishment system (incentives) as applied elsewhere. Unfortunately, the term "incentives" frequently equates to contests. Incentives (in the broad sense) are an essential part of that system; however, contests should be utilized selectively to reinforce the safety system.

As safety professionals, we must closely examine the scope and content of the safety system. We must also recognize that contests are generally short-term fixes that have little to do with system improvement. Failure to identify the components of the safety system can and has resulted in undue reliance on promotions and gimmicks to obtain so-called results. Contests should no more be considered a routine part of the safety system than they are considered a routine part of a production system.