Safety Programs: Best Practices

A successful program requires care and attention to certain details. Here are some “preventive” measures to follow.

There’s no denying the ROI potential that safety programs offer. According to the Liberty Mutual Institute for safety, every $1 invested in workplace safety returns approximately $4.41. But even without a documented monetary return, a safety incentive program helps foster a more robust safety culture, and keeps safety on the forefront of everyone’s mind. In a well planned and executed program, employees are more proactive about following safe practices and bringing up potential issues and concerns. A culture develops where being mindful of safety becomes ingrained in everyone’s work habits.

Are you seeing the results you want from your safety initiative? Here are some best practices to help ensure that your organization is getting the most out of its safety incentive program.

1. Gain Management Support and Participation

When executives, managers and supervisors take an active interest in the safety and welfare of employees, it gets noticed and influences the entire organization to buy into safety as a priority. Senior leadership should make a visible commitment to employee safety by including safety metrics as an agenda item in company performance reviews, and recognizing employees and teams for meeting and exceeding organizational safety goals. Active engagement in safety efforts, like having a senior-level manager present at safety committee meetings, listening to and acting on employee safety concerns, and even participating in walk-through safety inspections visibly reinforces management’s commitment to safety. (Just make sure they are wearing all the appropriate personal protective equipment – safety, glasses, hard hats, lab coats; nothing will ruin the credibility of a safety program faster than senior managers going through a work area without wearing required PPE.)

2. Don’t Depend on the Incentive Component for Results

Incentives are just one element of an effective safety program. A safety incentive can do a great job of keeping safe practices a top-of-mind priority; however, reinforcing safety training and operating procedures and encouraging individual employees to adopt safe behaviors is not a fix for a flawed safety management process. Take care of the fundamentals first:

  • Do a “health check” of your organization’s safety performance and compare it to averages and trends for your industry
  • Examine your processes for identifying, reporting and mitigating hazards in the workplace
  • Evaluate your safety training curriculum, and
  • Review your current safety policies and procedures and ensure compliance with regulations.

Make sure that you’ve got a complete, fundamentally sound safety process designed…and then use incentives to get your workforce engaged in the program.

3. Award the Behaviors That Lead to Workplace Safety – Not Just Safety Performance Itself

OSHA takes the position that incentive awards linked to the reduction of the number of reported accidents or injuries have the potential to provide workers with “…an inducement to under-report injuries…”. The counter to this OSHA concern is not to exclude rules related to incidents, but to ensure that participants are not completely penalized for having an incident. Where you typically see this as a concern is in “all or nothing” programs. In other words, once a participant has an incident, he/she is eliminated from earning points from that day forward. Properly structured incentives — ones that encourage employee involvement in safe work practices — should lead to improvements in accident rates without giving employees any reason to “hide” accidents or injuries.

Therefore, use incentives to encourage key employee activities and behaviors that promote a safe workplace. These can include:

  • Taking safety training and/or conducting training sessions for other employees
  • Reporting “near misses”
  • Participation in safety meetings
  • Identifying workplace hazards, and developing solutions or new safety best practices to overcome them
  • Keeping a proactive safety attitude (always wearing appropriate protection, pointing out hazards to other employees, being a “champion for safe practices,” etc.)
  • Participating in accident investigations, and/or
  • Conducting work area inspections and job safety analyses.

4. Build Variety into the Award Rules

To keep employees engaged in the program and raise their safety awareness whenever they are on the job, create a mix of award rules that vary in frequency, value, predictability and target audience.

  • Use a set of point-based awards for day-to-day activities and participation that promote safe work practices like attending training, training others, participating in safety meetings, 100% compliance with safety procedures, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), scoring high on a safety audit, conducting work area inspections, reporting near-misses and so forth. Be sure to award active participation (i.e., participating in a safety meeting vs. merely attending); passive participation requires less worker involvement and does little to change behavior.
  • “On the spot” awards give line supervisors and managers a tool to immediately award an employee observed to be “doing something right.” Spot awards create an immediate connection between the desired, safe behavior and the award. These awards also promote face-to-face, public recognition and highlight a good example for the rest of the team to follow.
  • Create awards that recognize individual employees who have consistently done an outstanding job of promoting a safe work environment over a given period of time – for example, recognizing weekly/monthly/quarterly “Safety Superstars.”
  • Team performance awards can be used to reward and recognize crews for reaching safety-related goals (i.e., behavioral goals, not incident/accident numbers). Teamwork can create a healthy sense of competition and encourage positive peer influences in achieving safety goals. In a subtle way, awarding teams for group performance opens the door for team members to monitor and encourage each other’s efforts, even in environments where individuals might prefer that fellow workers “mind their own business.” Team-based incentive awards have a great track record of driving results — usually greater than individual incentives.

5. Involve Everyone

While senior-level support for safety is imperative, broad involvement by all levels of employees will drive performance and long-term program success. Getting line employees involved in early program design and development is a particularly inventive way to identify areas of risk and root causes of accidents. (Who better to outline workplace safety than the people actually doing the work?) It’s also a powerful way to get worker buy-in: As the saying goes, people tend to support what they help build.

Encourage, recognize and award employees who take part in safety suggestion programs, accident investigations, safety committees and inspections – and allow them to participate during their regular work hours.

In addition to applying safe practices themselves, managers and supervisors will be observing and documenting day-to-day employee safety behaviors, processing worker-submitted hazard reports and safety solutions, and recognizing employees for their pro-safety attitudes. Make sure your program and performance review also awards managers for their safety-related efforts. The philosophy of broad involvement should even extend to the program award rules. Try to focus on smaller awards for a larger number of people on a regular basis. This provides more opportunities to positively reinforce desired behaviors and attitudes to a greater number of workers, leading to organizational behavior change.

6. Don’t Forget the Recognition

Even though you are awarding employees for their commitment to safety, don’t forget the power that recognition has to impact worker attitudes and behaviors. Remember that your safety incentive program is in fact a form of employee recognition, and countless studies have demonstrated the positive impact that timely and meaningful recognition has on employee morale, engagement and performance. Train your managers on soft skills and encourage them to recognize employee safety accomplishments often, publicly and meaningfully. If your organization has a traditional employee recognition program, consider integrating it with your safety incentive program. This approach often works well because employees benefit from being able to earn awards through multiple facets of their work, and the organization benefits by supporting multiple employee programs with a single administrative process.

7. Keep It Simple

Avoid convoluted award rules and requirements. People can’t get engaged in concepts they don’t quickly understand. Clearly define all goals and measurements, and post them in easy-to-access locations such as your Intranet site, break room bulletin boards, emails, etc.

Also, the program should be easy to manage and administer. Think through the process of how an employee’s action would yield an award; Is it an on-the-spot situation where a manager has to witness the action? Does the employee fill out a form with a suggestion? Go through the possible scenarios and document the process of how it all “works” so that it can be clearly communicated to employees. On the other end of the cycle, employees should be able to access information about the awards/points they’ve accumulated (typically through a program Web site) and access an online system for rewards fulfillment.

8. Offer Appropriate Rewards

Keep the audience in mind when assembling a portfolio of rewards. Consider the demographics of your participants, and choose items that would most resonate with them. You might consider polling your participants to find what whets their appetites.

9. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Any company that is tracking their performance against OSHA metrics is likely to already be “talking safety” on a regular basis. Safety meetings are a pretty common fixture among industrial and transportation workforces, and are a natural platform for communicating and promoting the safety incentive program. Because the safety incentive program creates a formal way to measure proactive behaviors, not just results, it’s a means of celebrating (and encouraging) the positive actions that make a difference, rather than focusing on the negative of incident/accident data.

The safety incentive program should also be communicated globally throughout the company — not just to those groups of workers affected by safety issues. Even if office workers don’t participate in the program, they will receive the most important message and reward: that their employer truly cares about — and is investing in — maintaining a safe workplace.