You buy a new car. You probably wash and wax it quite religiously for the first month or so. Then something happens — the new car smell wears off, you get your first scratch, you start making car payments — and no longer does washing and waxing seem as much of a priority.

The same thing holds true for incentive programs. When they are new and you start to see the rewards, you embrace the program. But things change. Incentives no longer have much value, because it seems you keep getting rewarded for something you either feel forced to do (for fear of losing your job) or you have “learned” to make part of your daily work habit.

A popular definition of insanity has floated around for years: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting the outcome to change.” This suggests that keeping the same criteria in place will result in the same outcome. Perhaps this is valid in everyday life, but when it comes to a safety incentives program, following that idea could lead to disinterest.

Spice things up

Name brand products, prepaid bank and gift cards, safety lotteries and jackpots, safety bingo, and so on — there is certainly no shortage of exceptional ideas and materials to spice up your incentives program. But once the program is in place, whether or not you change the concept, you must raise the bar on achievement.

I recently passed my ASP (Associate Safety Professional) exam. In preparation for the test, I took a course that consisted of retired questions from previous exams. One of the questions dealt with safety incentives and presented three “true” statements:

1 They are designed to generate involvement among participants and are especially effective when targeted to a special temporary issue.
2 They are limited to providing motivation and address attitude and behavior.
3 They are not a substitute for safety and health management programs.

The first statement suggests incentives programs are most effective when they are targeted to a special temporary issue. A common perception is that removing a benefit will lead to reversion. But there is a way to keep the program effective and increase the level of safety at the same time.

SIP tips

As a trustee and management chair of The Northeast Ohio Labor and Management Safety Incentive Program (SIP) in Cleveland, I know first-hand about safety apathy. I have been involved with the program for over six years. Early on, I wondered how effective the program was at meeting its summary objective of “promoting improvement in safety programs and practices through education and outreach.” So in September 2002, the SIP surveyed general contractors and construction managers to find out what their expectations were for their projects. Results revealed that Cleveland’s construction industry was evolving at a very fast pace. In addition, an industry-wide substance abuse program initiated in the Cleveland market in January 2001 was gaining new members monthly. Add to that the OSHA partnership started by the Construction Employers’

Association in 2000, and clearly safety was king in Cleveland. And yet, there were some haunting realities: 1 While the level of safety awareness and training (and corresponding expectations) in our construction industry had been significantly raised over the past ten years, we were still using a single safety metric to evaluate our quarterly and annual prize winners: no lost-time injury or illness.
2 Attendance dropped off 25 percent between 2002 and 2004 at monthly meetings. So while all this excitement was happening with safety in Cleveland, fewer and fewer people were hearing about it first-hand.

To generate renewed interest in your incentives program, consider these suggestions:

1 Ask for input — Do the workers still “enjoy” the current program, both in benefits and in the process? Is information being effectively downstreamed? If you find a negative response, it may be time for a change. To evaluate this in Cleveland, we initiated a quarterly toolbox talk (SIP Tip) asking field workers to complete a review of a worksite photo for possible safety violations, with a random winner chosen from correct entries.
2 Look outside the program — If there are criteria you can include that already have garnered universal support (e.g., substance abuse program, 10-hour OSHA card) or are being discussed in safety circles (recordable versus days away), bring them to the table.
3 Soft marketing — Find something your workers use every day, and emblazon it with your program logo or catch phrase. In Cleveland, we purchased flat construction pencils and hardhat holders for distribution at various events.
4 Rewards have benefits — Rather than give away a T-shirt, tie the reward back into safety. Last year, the SIP program quarterly rewards included a safety glasses kit with three different lens types. This year, we will be giving away a five-gallon bucket with hardhat, safety glasses, leather gloves and earplugs. And our annual prize qualifiers all receive a certificate for winter outerwear. Of course, our SIP logo is ever-present.

Raise the bar

There is no clear answer as to how long a particular incentives program should be in place. At some point, the criteria for the awards become as common as waking up in the morning. At that point, you must raise the bar.