Incentives are used a great deal in construction safety programs; however, a great deal of uncertainty exists regarding their effectiveness of improving safety on a jobsite. Most research on safety incentives involves case studies and theoretical analysis of their advantages and disadvantages, while little has been done on examining their effectiveness over a large population of construction firms. Using primary survey data from construction firms and craft workers, this paper examines the impact of incentives on the safety performance of this population. This paper also examines the differences in the perception of their effectiveness between managers and craft workers. The study finds that incentives are effective at improving many of the safety performance metrics of construction. Moreover, the paper examines how key safety performance indicators change over time in the presence of safety incentive programs in the US construction industry. The key finding of this paper is that the effectiveness of safety incentive programs change with time. Over time, safety incentive programs become less effective as suspected by earlier experts and managers. However, craft workers have a more favorable impression regarding the effectiveness of safety incentive programs than those individuals who are in charge of the program.
The performance of the construction industry has a tremendous effect on the U.S. economy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis when one includes construction related business involving design, equipment and materials manufacturing, and supply, the construction industry accounts for 13% of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), making it the largest manufacturing industry in the U.S. Unfortunately, the construction industry doesn't achieve this performance without significant cost to the health and safety of the workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 7.1 full-time workers per 100 in construction suffered a work related injury or illness in 2002. Furthermore, the total number of U.S. fatalities in private construction in 2002 was 1,121, which was one-fifth of all workplace fatalities in the U.S.
Since the inception of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1971, the safety performance of all US industries has improved. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of fatalities in construction alone has been reduced by half. The improvement in safety performance is attributed to many efforts made by the industry such as adopting safer technologies, improved work methods, better training, and more through accident investigations. Another measure taken by some construction companies to improve safety is the use of safety incentives. There is, however, a great deal of debate in the industry about incentives' ability to improve not only safety but also other construction performance measures. In particular, there is concern about the viability of incentives to provide substantial long-term improvements (Prichard).