Safety in the workplace is a must, but it can also be a tough thing to navigate. Leaders within the space are always looking for ways to create a jobsite environment that meets or exceeds recommended safety standards. One method that has become popular is the implementation of a safety incentive program.

These programs are usually established in order to help create awareness about safety procedures and provide motivation for employees to adhere to these procedures. But are these programs successful, or do they do more harm than good? This is the question that has created a bit of controversy among safety managers. Here are some risks to consider when deciding if a safety incentive program is worth utilizing.

The Risk of Underreporting

One of the primary concerns when using a safety incentive program is the risk of accidents or injuries going unreported. Because people are driven by incentives, it is possible that workers could choose to hide incidents that might jeopardize their eligibility for a safety incentive. Programs that promote an “X days without injury” seem especially susceptible when the goal day is close at hand.

Another factor that plays into underreporting are group incentives. While promoting teamwork can help to increase safety awareness, peer pressure to hide an accident could happen as well. If an entire group is at risk of losing a bonus or incentive, a worker might be more inclined to keep quiet about an incident so it won’t be perceived as messing things up for everyone.

The Risk of Reduced Ownership

Another way that safety incentive programs can become more of a stumbling block than helpful is when they cause people to refuse to take ownership of tasks or projects. If something in the workplace is perceived as slightly more dangerous or more likely to have an incident associated with it, people may shy away from these responsibilities altogether because they don’t want to jeopardize their safety incentive.

This can create gaps for employers, and lower productivity and efficiency. It can also create situations where risk of injury may even increase. If a certain team, task, or department doesn’t have adequate staff, it is possible that those who do take ownership in that area could become overworked and stretched too thin. This, in turn, can lead to safety mistakes that might otherwise have been avoided.



The Risk of Short-Term Change

Some safety incentive programs start out great, like a New Year’s resolution on January 3rd. However, as time goes by and the excitement associated with the incentive begins to fade, the results can plummet as well. As with any other New Year’s resolution, it takes anywhere from 21 days to two months for a habit to form. If it’s not consciously done, and with support, it’s too often dismissed.

Workers revert back to their “old ways” and all the time, effort, and resources invested in the incentive program don’t really provide a solid return for the company. In some cases, safety managers will increase the incentive, in an attempt to rally new excitement. This may work for a while, but having to constantly up the ante to keep people engaged isn’t a viable long-term strategy.

Mitigating the Risks

Despite the negatives, many safety managers still believe that it is possible to have a successful safety incentive program. In order to have good results, though, it is important to be aware of the risks and work to mitigate them accordingly. Here are a few ideas that might help:

  • Consider a safety incentive program that rewards workers for completing safety training. This will help motivate individuals and teams to grow their knowledge of safety procedures and familiarity of standards, which should reduce injury in the longer term.
  • Design safety incentive programs that focus more on a positive safety change over time, instead of a hard and fast metric. For example, instead of an “X days without injuries” goal, perhaps work to reduce overall injuries by 2% each quarter or 5% each year.
  • Include within your safety incentive program some confidential or anonymous method for allowing workers to submit observations, ideas, concerns, innovations, and suggestions for safety. This way, people feel more empowered to contribute without fear of rejection or retaliation.
  • Implement a safety incentive program that is comprehensive, providing various kinds of short- and long-term goals and incentives. This helps people to stay excited over time, and gives them the opportunity to pick and choose what they focus their efforts on.

While the verdict is still out on the effectiveness of safety incentive programs, that doesn’t mean that safety managers shouldn’t ever recognize accomplishments or reward safe behaviors. Positive reinforcement and strategic goal setting can be a powerful motivator, so long as it is used in the right way. Be sure that the program or incentive fosters a positive work environment, increases engagement and communication among workers, and provides long-term and sustainable results.