Rick Blabolil
President
April 29, 2015

Is Your Workplace Safety Program Rewarding The Wrong Thing? OSHA Won’t Be Happy

We all know about the law of unintended consequences: you do one thing expecting certain results, but that action produces a different result—and usually one you don’t want. Workplace safety programs that reward the wrong behaviors can result in unintended consequences and a citation from OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). Here’s what we’re talking about and what you can do to avoid wrong outcomes and a black mark from OSHA.

You’ve probably been in workplaces, especially manufacturing, where “number of days without an accident” or similar numbers are proudly posted. Accident-free is something to be proud of but when that number is used as the basis for rewards in a workplace safety program, that program is in trouble. Why? Because that focuses the program on results, not behaviors that drive those results. Well-intended as a results-focused program might be, it is a disincentive with regard to program effectiveness. Workers and managers are less inclined to report safety incidents because of the negative consequence for them—a smaller or no reward, or even retaliation for reporting the incident and making the workplace “look bad.”

OSHA recognized the unintended consequence of results-related measures and in 2012 issued a memorandum (“Employer Safety Incentive and Disincentive Policies and Practices”) to its regional offices that discourages their use. In fact, citations have already been issued as part of OSHA’s safety incentive review process.

Marketing Innovators joined other organizations to address the OSHA memorandum in a positive way through the Incentive Legislative Campaign. The Campaign notes that “A properly designed safety incentive program not only rewards safe work, but also promotes proactive behavior such as making safety suggestions, identifying hazards and joining safety committees.” Here are some questions you might want to ask when evaluating your own workplace safety program:

  • Does my program, even inadvertently, encourage employees not to report on-the-job injuries or illnesses?
  • Does my program focus just on the fact that an injury or illness occurred on the job or was reported, or does it focus instead on the conduct that led to the injury or illness?
  • Does my program punish or reward employees who cause near misses as well as those who report accidents and injuries?
  • Are near misses treated as being as important an element of my program as reported injuries and illnesses are?

May 3-9 is North American Occupational Health and Safety Week, and what better time to assess your own workplace program for compliance with the OSHA memorandum and, more importantly, for its effectiveness in ensuring worker safety. In 2013 the US workplace saw 4,405 worker deaths, the second lowest since the data were first recorded in 1992, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But instead of congratulating ourselves on the good news, we need to assess our workplace safety programs to drive that number lower: Do those programs reward results or do they reward behaviors that drive those results?

Are you ready for a rewards and recognition program that rewards the right workplace safety behaviors? Contact a Marketing Innovators solutions expert.

Great resources:

http://www.ulworkplace.com/blog/

https://www.osha.gov/

http://ehstoday.com/safety

http://www.shrm.org/hrdisciplines/safetysecurity/articles/pages/osha-safety-incentives.aspx

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