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Why Safety Incentive Programs Are Misunderstood

Sept. 24, 2013
Safety incentive plans generate a real difference of opinion in the safety community. Many are opposed to them, while others see results and believe in motivation.
Safety incentive plans generate a real difference of opinion in the safety community. Many are opposed to them, while others see results and believe in motivation.

Both sides have valid points, as they often are gimmicky and almost insulting. Motivating workers on a very serious subject like safety with a bingo game is pretty ridiculous. But there are better versions that are effective. To me, it all depends on how it’s done. More specifically, it depends on if the workers are engaged, because engagement is the single-most important component of a strong safety incentive program. It is more important than the size of the rewards.

Why is engagement so high on my list? Because I think our top priority in establishing a stronger safety culture is to have the entire workforce take responsibility for being safe. The only way to do that is to fully engage them in the importance of safety.

A culture doesn’t develop independently, so meetings are the most effective vehicle. Safety incentive programs generate a terrific opportunity to engage a workforce in safety. An interactive meeting with participation from several people, in a positive atmosphere, is great for morale and makes safety more important in the minds of everyone. 

Awards to departments, teams and individuals give management an opportunity to provide encouragement, and show appreciation for achievements. Those opportunities don’t come easily. Done well, a safety incentive program can be the engine to eliminate avoidable injuries.

The problem with providing incentives without a meeting or with simply adding it to a paycheck, is that it tends to turn safety into an “all about the money” kind of thing. I’ve seen too many situations where the company relied on big bucks in monthly awards to make the difference, and after a short, sometimes dramatic drop, the injuries start to creep back. Before long, the awards became an entitlement.

So, both sides of the safety incentive program debate are correct. It’s all in the way they’re delivered. Design your program with recognition, motivation, accountability and lots of engagement, and your plan will be a winner.

About the author: Joe Stevens founded Bridge Safety Consultants in 2003 to provide companies and organizations with a resource to help them strengthen their safety culture. The company conducts a safety culture audit, then designs and manages safety recognition and rewards program, with bilingual monthly safety meetings. Stevens can be contacted at: [email protected]. To see a typical meeting in action, visit the Bridge Safety Consultants Web site.

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