Campaigning for Safety: A Successful Incentives Approach for PG&E

March 29, 2005
Still debating whether to take a results-based or process-based approach in your safety incentives program? A retired human resources official with PG&E Corp. explains that a process-based approach -- one that rewards workers for participating in safety-related activities -- paid huge dividends for the San Francisco-based utility company.

Elena Stokes, a former human resources employee with PG&E Corp. -- whose subsidiary, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., provides power to about 14 million people in northern and central California -- wanted to create a safety incentives program that encouraged workers at PG&E's Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant and Humboldt County electric plant to be focused constantly on safety. She also wanted the program to include everyone in the plant, from manual laborers to clerical workers to janitors.

To determine the best approach, the two plants formed employee recognition committees comprised of representatives from every department. The committees studied the issue for about a year and finally decided to engage a motivational consulting firm, which already had a program in place in one of the Diablo Canyon plant's departments.

Committee members also came up with their own creative twist: addressing safety issues through a "campaign of the month," Stokes explains.

If, for example, a worker at Diablo Canyon fell off a scaffold and broke his leg, the employee recognition committee would start a plantwide campaign calling upon all employees to submit ideas to avoid similar incidents in the future. To get the word out, the committee hung flyers and posters in common areas, while video monitors in every lunchroom would provide information on that month's safety campaign. Stokes, who recently retired from PG&E, also would show up at department meetings throughout the plant to plug campaigns.

The employee recognition committee would meet twice a month -- the company provided committee members with their own incentive, a catered lunch -- to evaluate ideas. Workers received a "power dollar" certificate from the Bill Sims Co., redeemable for prizes, just for submitting their ideas. The employee recognition committee then narrowed down the field to the top 10 ideas, and those 10 workers would receive more power dollars. The winner received even more, and was recognized for his or her suggestion at regularly held plantwide meetings.

An incident wasn't necessary to spark a campaign: Workers were encouraged to submit their own suggestions for a campaign of the month, Stokes says.

Also successful for PG&E was its peer recognition program, in which workers gave power dollars -- redeemable for merchandise from the Bill Sims Co. catalog -- to their co-workers to show their appreciation for a job well-done.

"For instance, I could write one out as a thank-you to the person who works at the desk next to me," Stokes said. "If she stayed late to help me get a project done before deadline, I would write on the coupon: 'Thank you so much for the work you did on Dec. 3.'"

Absent from PG&E's program were any incentives for working without a lost-time injury or accident. Even so, Stokes says the effect her process-based program had was to reduce lost-time accidents. While it's always tricky trying to quantify the direct results of incentives programs, Stokes estimates that PG&E's program contributed to a 50-percent drop in lost-time accidents over the period of a decade.

"Although it took a few months for everyone to catch on, we saw immediate results," Stokes said.

Look for an in-depth discussion of both process-based and results-based safety incentives programs in the April issue of Occupational Hazards. The article is the second in a two-part series that began in March. To find Part 1 in the series, as well as other stories on safety incentives programs, visit

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