Ask any group of managers if they believe that safety incentive programs are a good idea and you will get some interesting responses:

  • "Why should I PAY people to be safe? It's part of their job! That's why they get a paycheck…"

  • "If we did a safety reward program, how would we prevent abuse and favoritism?"

  • "Safety Incentive programs do nothing more than cause under-reporting of injuries. They produce no real behavior change."

There is a fear among safety managers that safety incentive programs create or encourage injury hiding. While it's true that a poorly designed program can lead to injury hiding, this is not a universal truth. Is it true that a poorly designed space shuttle o-ring can destroy human life? Yes. Are all o-rings inherently evil and wicked? Obviously not.

As we explore the concepts and strategies behind safety recognition programs, it will become evident that a properly developed safety recognition program can have lasting behavior change benefits without negative results like injury hiding or nepotism.

Do Safety Rewards Really Work?

In a three-year study conducted by the American Society of Safety Engineers that was published in Professional Safety magazine in 2004, 300 construction firms were tracked. One half of the companies refused to implement a safety reward recognition program for the reasons mentioned at the start of this article; the other 150 companies felt that they needed a safety recognition strategy.

At the end of the three-year study, the firms who chose to implement safety recognition programs had injury rates that were 50 percent lower than the firms who refused to try safety recognition programs.

There are numerous case studies that support these same findings, proving that these programs work. Before we consider some of these studies, let's explore the most common objections heard to safety reward and recognition programs and provide a response to each.

Most Popular Excuses for Not Using Safety Reward Programs
Excuse #1: "Why should I PAY people to be safe? It's part of their job! That's why they get a paycheck…"

There are several important reasons why a good safety recognition strategy is vital for a successful business. The first is rising worker's compensation costs.

Worker's Compensation stacks the deck against the employer. Many employees abuse the system and fraud runs rampant.

Consider the damage that worker's comp claims can unleash against your company. The Stevedoring Company in the Southeast region of the U.S. reported $2.5 million in worker's comp costs and more than 100 Lost Time Injuries. This company only had 300 employees!

Consider the practices of unethical worker's comp lawyers who make presentations to labor unions in order to educate employees on how to milk the work comp system.

Finally, consider the lucrative side of worker's comp claims from the standpoint of an unscrupulous employee. Studies have suggested that workers can earn more income from worker's comp—tax-free no less--than working a job.

If it's true that company presidents and CEOs should receive rewards for outstanding performance such as increasing profits and expanding market shares, shouldn't workers be rewarded for performance practices too?

No amount of safety training or equipment will protect your bottom line against worker's comp fraud, but a strong incentive program that creates an atmosphere

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