All About You Podcasts

All About You: Create competition to increase engagement

All About You by Richard Hawk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

Fans make a difference. It’s why when two teams of equal skill play one another, the home squad is typically considered the favorite to win.

During my “Create a Vibrant Safety Culture” keynote, I show slides of fans from around the world in crazy outfits cheering on their favorite team.

It doesn’t have to be a sports team. Any form of competition that creates an “us vs. them” mentality tends to get people fired up. The same goes for individual challenges, because we have a long-developed desire to be victorious. You can use this common drive not only to get your employees more involved with a safety meeting, training class, or safety and health campaign, but also to add some fun to your job.

Here are some tips to create stimulating safety and health competitions:

Choose a pop culture or local theme

You’ll get more marketing miles if you can tie your competition to something everyone already recognizes. One of my favorite safety competitions was a “Safety Olympics” that a chemical company in Pennsylvania started just before the Summer Olympics. Another company in Indianapolis hosted a well-received “Indianapolis 500 Safety Race,” in which employees were given individual race cars with their names on them to publicize their progress during the “race.”

I’ve performed many safety and health songs, and although I’d like to say my “original” songs get the best responses, it’s the parodies such as “Grandma Got Run Over By a Forklift” – based on the popular Christmas song – that audiences like the most. The same idea applies to any competition or program: A well-recognized base for your theme will work best.

Create ‘grassroots’ ideas

It’s fine to come up with a theme yourself. However, when employees are part of the creative process, they’ll buy into it more. So ask around. Let everyone know you’re looking for a theme and details for a competition. Be sure to give recognition to (and, if possible, reward) the person or group that comes up with any ideas you use.

Keep it simple

A competition will add to your workload, but it’s well worth the effort. It’s best to make the scoring and process as simple as possible. If you can, get help from the teams. A safety committee at a large defense contractor started a competition among departments that included scoring for positive safety and health behaviors at home (such as exercising or changing smoke alarm batteries). It wasn’t as task-intensive as it might appear for the committee because each department appointed a representative to collect the point cards and tally the results, which they passed on to the committee.

Don’t run it for too long

In today’s fast-paced world, people can lose interest in things quickly. Still, your safety competition can run for several weeks if you set it up correctly. For example, pose a different challenge each week. Just don’t let the competition run for much longer, unless it’s based on a project. Also, be sure to advertise the start and end dates.

Do plenty of marketing

One reason the aforementioned “Safety Olympics” was such a success – including dramatically reducing incident rates – had to do with the team standings being shared regularly. That included postings on bulletin boards, emails, announcements and updates during meetings throughout the plant. Once the competition was over, the winning teams were presented their medals and a monetary prize during an all-hands meeting. And in the end, everyone won – including the EHS department – because it was fun and the competition boosted safety and health awareness throughout the site.

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps safety professionals become better leaders through his keynotes, workshops, articles and books so they can create vibrant safety cultures. His popular “Mindfully Safe” keynote teaches employees how to focus better and improve their situational awareness, a key skill to preventing incidents. To contact Richard, visit

Podcast page

Listen on Soundcloud or Stitcher

Subscribe to the podcast feed in iTunes

Post a comment to this article

Safety+Health welcomes comments that promote respectful dialogue. Please stay on topic. Comments that contain personal attacks, profanity or abusive language – or those aggressively promoting products or services – will be removed. We reserve the right to determine which comments violate our comment policy. (Anonymous comments are welcome; merely skip the “name” field in the comment box. An email address is required but will not be included with your comment.)