How to Make Safety Incentive Schemes Successful

How to Make Safety Incentive Schemes Successful

Depositphotos_13982165_xs (2)Since seeing the by-products of poorly designed and implemented safety incentive schemes I have never been a big fan of them, particularly those that reward for not getting injured (or not reporting those injuries). Although they once supported and encouraged them, the regulators are now viewing them with suspicion.  In 2012, The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) released a memorandum criticizing the practice. From the memo:

“OSHA has also observed that the potential for unlawful discrimination under all of these policies may increase when management or supervisory bonuses are linked to lower reported injury rates. While OSHA appreciates employers using safety as a key management metric, we cannot condone a program that encourages discrimination against workers who report injuries”

Dr Rob Long in his book “Real Risk” is a definite opponent safety of incentives, rewards and other extrinsic motivators. He lists many experiments and much evidence that debunks Taylorist principles of rewarding good behavior and punishing bad. He says that humans dont function as machines except for mindless repetitive tasks and that most complex tasks deliver enjoyable and intrinsic motivators which extrinsic rewards counter intuitively work against. He believes that short term rewards generate short term thinking and people become desensitised to material and extrinsic “things”. Long asks the question: What are your goals to achieve long term ownership and commitment?

However, I have recently become a big proponent of Risk Homeostasis Theory. Dr Gerald Wilde, who first proposed this theory, defines Risk Homeostasis as “the degree of risk taking behaviour and magnitude of loss due to accidents and life-style dependant disease are maintained over time, unless there is a change in the target level of risk.”. In his book, Target Risk 3 (Download it here FREE) , he states that target level of risk can be reduced when people see the benefits of safer behaviour, these can be economic or psychological (ie esteem). Wilde has spent considerable time studying incentive programs and in his book he presents a “cull of the ingredients of the most effective incentive plans”. These “ingredients” are presented as:

  1. Managerial vigour
  2. Rewarding the bottom line
  3. Attractiveness of the Reward
  4. Progressive safety credits
  5. Simple rules
  6. Perceived Equity
  7. Perceived attainability
  8. Short Incubation period
  9. Rewarding Group as well as individual performance
  10. Operator participation in programme design
  11. Prevention of accident under reporting
  12. Reward all levels of the organisation
  13. Supplement with safety training
  14. Maximise net savings vs maximising net benefit/cost
  15. Research Component during design and prior to implementation

Wilde cautions that countermeasures that are oriented toward specific behaviours instead of towards the outcome (injury or not getting injured) do not prevent behavioural adaption from occurring. Reduction in one particular immediate accident cause my make room for another to become more prominent!

In his most recent Blog Phil LaDuke lists Ten Tips For Creating Appropriate Safety Incentives and you will see below that they are not dissimilar to Wilde’s findings.

Phil Says: Safety Incentives if poorly designed and executed can create real problems in organizations and may even encourage under-reporting. But well executed incentive systems can be an effective tool for encouraging worker engagement and involvement in the activities that improve safer outcomes. In this week’s blog I offer 10 tips for getting it right.

By Phil La Duke

Safety Incentives are increasingly eyed with suspicion by regulators who worry inappropriate incentives might lead to under reporting of injuries. Unfortunately, many organizations have legacy systems that provide financial rewards for injury-free time periods. These rewards rapidly become seen as entitlements. If you find yourself in this situation take heart, you can easily change the incentives to encourage people to engage in activities that will lead to safer outcomes. When you make changes to your incentive programs follow these 10 guidelines that will help you create effective incentives.

  1. Limit the Scope. Whatever incentive(s) you create must be fairly limited to scope. Link the incentive to a very specific behavior. The behavior should be clearly attributable to a proactive behavior by the associates eligible for the incentive. You must be careful that the behavior cannot be plausibly the result of other external factors. For example, reductions in Incident Rates could be the result of the behavior could just as easily be attributed to under-reporting of injuries or even chance.
  2. Select a Behavior that is Completely Within the Employee’s Control. When we create an incentive that is outside the control of the employee we create an incentive for people to lie, cheat, and steal. Don’t believe me? Hold people accountable for sales.
  3. Link the Incentive to Reduction of Risk. By creating an incentive that directly correlates to the reduction of risk, you engage the worker in risk reduction and workplace safety. Imagine the benefits of having a significant portion of your workforce actively looking for ways to reduce risk.
  4. Consider Possible Undesirable Outcomes. Too often we create incentives that not only encourage a desired outcome but also encourage behaviors that we never saw coming and don’t want; its important to do serious analysis of other behaviors that might be undesirable or even dangerous or illegal.
  5. Make Sure the Behavior Can Be Measured and Tracked.Incentives should be like SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based), and the more the behavior can be measurable and tracked the more likely people will participate and be successful.
  6. Make it Personal. Team incentives may be easier to administrate, but that convenience comes at the cost of individual control over one’s fate. By linking the incentive to a behavior that is performed by an individual you provide true motivation and you reduce animosity among team members who might be unhappy about losing an incentive because of poor performer of another.
  7. Provide Equal Opportunity to Succeed. Anything you link to the incentive should be equally accessible to all associates eligible for the incentive. If some of the workforce is excluded from participating it can lead to dysfunctional competition and cries of foul play.
  8. Avoid Outcome-Based Criteria for Success. Sales incentives are classic outcome-based incentive systems and they are universally stupid. Sales professionals can control how many face-to-face appointments they make, they can control how many cold calls they make, they can even (to some extent) control how many quotes they write, but they can’t control the outcome (sales) show me a salesman who is having a rough sales year and I will show you a salesperson who is at least tempted to lie, cheat, and backstab. But if you reward individual behavior-based activities instead of the result you will encourage people to work hard to behave in a certain way that is likely to produce positive outcomes.
  9. Don’t Make the New Criteria for Reward Harder than the One It Replaces. This tip is easier than it seems. When you replace the old incentive (that is outside the person’s control) with an incentive that is within people’s control you guarantee that it is easier to achieve. You will likely have to do some heavy promotion of a change to ensure
  10. Put a Positive Spin On the Change. Whatever you decide to do, you have to be sure that the new incentive system isn’t seen as a take away or as a punishment.

More articles on Safety Incentive Schemes and Programs:

Effective Safety Incentive Programs

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What’s Wrong with Safety Incentive Schemes

Safety Incentive Schemes For the 20 years I was in the mining industry we had a variety of safety incentives. There were stubby coolers, belt buckles, caps, jackets, sports bags and so on. Awards were given for various periods without a lost time accident, often a more valuable prize was given for greater periods without a ……Read the rest of the article

Safety Incentive Programs


Safety Incentive Programs I just heard of a company that is proudly spruiking its new reward scheme in support of its Zero Harm policy – Eeerkk! “Safety Incentives” is still a very popular term used to reach this blog from search engines! Without going into the complexities of human behaviour and the psychology involved (which you can ……Read the rest of the article

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