Thinking of implementing a safety incentive plan? Not so fast. Incentive plans should be designed to enhance existing overall safety programs. Incentives should only be put into place after a reasonably effective safety culture, with positive results, has been established and nourished.

If the comprehensive safety and health program is not yielding clear and definite signs of success, then the incentive idea must wait. Never lose sight of the fact that the purpose of incentives is to realize improvement in actual observable and measurable safe work habits; it is not simply to be able to point to improved statistics.

Therefore, first get everyone on track and be sure they know how to work safely. Incentives can aid in the philosophy of employee self-regulation and show a most worthwhile return on investment. They give employees an added personal stake in working safely. The employees must understand that it is their conduct that will define the success or failure of the program.

Watch the reporting

The most common form of incentive program reaps rewards for certain time periods during which there is no lost-time injury, or recordable injury or illness, or similar gauged data. The first concern should always be the question of the stifling of incident reporting.

Negative peer pressure not to report can have a devastating effect. The employee who was hurt or who became ill may place too much emphasis on “not wanting to be the bad guy.” He/she may not report an incident because that would mean no one in the department would receive their turkey or gift certificate.

So, any program of this kind must strictly require reporting of all injuries and illnesses. When cases are not reported, the hazard may remain unabated and possibly become more of a risk endangering additional employees. Employees who hide injuries or illnesses, or influence others to do so, should receive firm sanctions. With this safeguard as a foundation for the incentive plan, the reward system can work to everyone’s advantage.

Focus on the good

There is another type of system that can be even more beneficial — one that rewards safe conditions and safe work practices, as opposed to a reduction in a certain classification of injuries and illnesses. The former will eventually take care of the latter. These more meaningful programs center on good work performance. Employees are rewarded for positive actions, rather than the lack of negative results.

Criteria for milestones include how many days have passed since an employee was noted violating a safety rule or simply operating in an unsafe fashion. If the program’s purpose was stated clearly and the program is driven to generate interest in avoiding risks (as opposed to just earning gifts), then success should be forthcoming.

Employees can show support for each other’s diligence in trying to be safety-conscious, not just in response to the program but because they understand the full range of benefits to be enjoyed by safe work practice in a safe environment. The extra incentive is there, but safe practice becomes ingrained and habitual.

Solicit participation

Solicit employee participation from the incipient stages of planning the incentive program. Get input into the design of the program elements, the rules and rewards. Rules must be clearly set forth, and goals or landmarks that are to be attained for the earning of rewards and recognition must be reasonably achievable. Keep the system simple. Make sure employees know how the rewards can be earned. Send out reminders through bulletin board postings, newsletters, and so on. This can also help keep enthusiasm high.

When programs involve evaluation of success over periods of time, the periods should not be so short that it becomes difficult to administer the program. On the other hand, campaigns or cycles should have established ending dates that are not so extended that employees can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

As for the size of groups, the criteria for prize-winning should relate to work teams, cell groups or small departments. This makes the program fair and manageable while still encouraging positive peer pressure and camaraderie.

Review & feedback

Periodic review of and feedback on the incentive plan is obligatory. Examine the plan’s effectiveness and look toward improving it. The absence of injuries and illnesses and the feeling of pride and accomplishment will serve as substantial rewards in themselves. Incentives have a place in the fostering of safe work habits, but a good attitude cannot be bought.

If your incentive plan is properly integrated, employees will continue to work safely, even in times when tangible gifts are not being offered as inducements.