OSHA seems to be, once again, determined to limit safety incentive plans. Their basic position is that incentives cause more injuries to go unreported, than injuries prevented. So they are threatening some form of punishment if companies do not agree with them, and instead want to keep their safety incentive plans just as they are.
There is obviously no hard data to support OSHA’s claim. In my experience, they are incorrect by a whopping number. It is crystal clear that providing workers with incentives to do their job in the safest possible way, to look out for each other, and to suffer as few injuries as possible, is a very good thing for everyone.
If the incentive plan is a winner-take-all, with one huge prize, OSHA has a valid point. But most plans are not structured like this, and can be very effective in raising awareness and reducing the number of injuries. The value of incentives is that they can work extremely well in making safety a higher priority. It isn’t just the money that motivates people; it’s the value that a company or an organization is placing on safety, and more specifically, their personal safety. To have the chance to win awards and rewards for doing the right thing-staying safe-is a motivator to do the right thing. There is no justification for carelessness or risk-taking, so behavior can change when there are reasons to do so. Not everyone is naturally safe, so creating an environment where safety is the highest priority absolutely influences everyone to act more safely.
One of the best things about incentives is that it gives the company a chance to provide recognition, but OSHA seems oblivious to this. In fact, the recognition portion of a good safety incentive program is as important as the financial reward. Being on a safe team that is being recognized for their safety record, and where everyone has won $25, is more about the recognition than the money. Feeling appreciated is by itself a positive motivator. However, money, or gift cards, or other reward is important, because it shows that there is a tangible value placed on safety. A hearty handshake is certainly appreciated, but back it up with a reward, and you’ve increased the value of staying safe, and for doing your job the right way.
As for the standard argument that everyone should perform their jobs safely without any extra incentive, I agree. However, human nature intrudes, and as with a thousand other jobs, a reward for accomplishing goals -in this case for staying safe- is a win for everyone. For an outline of a successful incentive plan, see here.
OSHA dislikes using hard and fast measurements, particularly number of injuries that occur. In my thinking, measuring a company’s improvement is legitimately measured by a reduction in injuries. Of course I want to consider other metrics, but at the end of the day, if we’re not preventing injuries from occurring, we’re not doing our job well.