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Designing a safety incentive program

August 1, 2012

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How can I create a balanced safety incentive program?

Responding is Richard Flynn, director MIH, C.A. Short, Shelby, NC.

According to a 2010 survey conducted by the Government Accountability Office, 116,000 of about 153,000 manufacturers in the United States (75 percent) had safety incentive programs that may affect workers’ reporting of injuries and illnesses. Not a good statistic.

The survey was driven by an OSHA concern that safety incentive programs may encourage non-reporting. After all the discussion and analysis, OSHA issued a memo confirming that, when done right, the agency supports safety incentive programs. It is how they are designed that matters.

From the OSHA memo: “A positive (safety) incentive program encourages or rewards workers for reporting injuries, illnesses, near-misses, or hazards; and/or recognizes, rewards, and thereby encourages worker involvement in the safety and health management system. Such an incentive program can be a good thing and an acceptable part of a (VPP) quality safety and health system.” That being said, OSHA inspectors, senior executives and financial people are examining what safety measures employers choose to focus on in their safety incentive program. What gets measured differs from company to company and industry to industry, but the golden rule has been set for all employee safety incentive programs: “Thou shall not appear to encourage/promote non-reporting.”

Regardless of the measures used, employers need to understand that an organization’s safety climate will be tied to a balanced safety incentive program. How can you create a positive, OSHA-friendly employee safety incentive program that will be a balanced part of your overall safety and health management system?

  • Don’t limit yourself to what you have done in the past. You need to be keeping your eyes on the future. Where are expectations in safety heading? What new trends are emerging in your industry related to safety? What technology is available that will help? Can you leverage what you currently do and move forward, or do you need a fresh start?
  • Create categories: As you can see from the following examples, to achieve a balanced employee safety incentive program, you must measure and recognize leading/upstream indicators, as well as acknowledge lagging indicators.

Category I: Safe work
Examples would include, but are not limited to, participation in a safety meeting, supervision-recognized safe act, zero incidents for the month, perfect attendance, etc.

Category II: Proactive safety
Examples would include, but are not limited to, reporting a near miss, reporting unsafe conditions, participating in stretch exercises, participating in a safety audit, good housekeeping, and completing safety training.

Category III: Safety leadership
Examples would include, but are not limited to, leading a safety meeting, participating in a root cause investigation, leading stretch exercises, and recognizing a peer for a safe act.

Category IV: Safety engagement
Examples would include, but are not limited to, on-the-spot safe act, above and beyond safe behavior, being a safety team player, and off-the-job safety ideas.

In the end, a balanced safety incentive program will measure and recognize your people for safety engagement on and off the job and will, if properly structured, raise safety awareness, reduce incidents and increase the bottom line – all without encouraging non-reporting of incidents.

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