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Safety Incentive Programs
Safety should always be a main concern for employers. It is cost-effective to care about your employees. It is good employer-employee relations. It's also great public relations when employers and employees work together for the sake of safety.
Give the horse a carrot. We've all heard this expression but have you ever really thought about how true it is? Basically, reward the worker and the work will get done. This is a technique we have all been victim to since pre-school. Recall your teacher for a moment. Picture her telling you that you can have a sticker or a prize if you recite the alphabet. Same principal.
Every year, 3.0 million workers in the United States are injured in job-related accidents. The Social Security Administration reported that employers and their insurers paid more than $39.0 billion in workers' compensation benefits in 1991, i.e., approximately $438 per covered employee. Statistics reveal 5.9 million work-related illnesses and injuries in the private sector, with a rate per 100 workers of 6.7%; it is estimated that injuries alone cost U.S. businesses over $110 billion annually (1998 statistics).
The need for additional safety measures are obvious. Safety programs are strategies to improve unsafe environmental and human working conditions. Most safety initiatives focus on identifying preventable hazards, such as repetitive motions, unsafe behaviors, faulty equipment, or poor housekeeping. By mitigating or eliminating these hazards, successful safety programs prevent or minimize accidents.
A properly structured safety incentive program can encourage employees to ensure a safer working environment. The safety of your employees at work should be a top priority. Giving them incentives to follow the workplace safety rules is a good way to ensure their safety. Safety incentive programs can also be used as a type of insurance. A good number of lawsuits are based on workplace injury. Making sure that the employees are aware of the dangers at work and aware in how to avoid them, you are inevitably ensuring that injuries are kept to a minimum. These programs also help to bring employees together, to unify the team.
A simple way to start is by looking around. Identify workplace hazards, such as the slippery floors, unstable ladders and bad lighting. Identify personal mistakes such as not wearing the correct protective gear, not notifying management of possible hazards, and not looking for potential hazards. Explain OSHA rules and regulations to your employees. Explain to them why they cannot chew gum on a production floor instead of just saying not to do so/
Several sources agree that there are two school of thought or practice in terms of safety in the workplace. Behavior-based programs focus on how many safe behaviors are observed in the workplace. These programs reward the right activities being completed, putting the burden on management to run the business in a safe manner. On the other hand, the older, results-focused safety programs emphasized how many accidents were reported over a period of time and, typically, offered incentives and awards to celebrate reduced rates.
The criticism of these programs," says Tim East, a director of risk management for Walt Disney Company, "is that they are downstream measurements of system failures, rely on gimmicks, suppress reporting of injuries, and put the burden on workers to not get hurt."
East suggested a combination of these two methods.
For the idea of rewards or incentives to work, an employer needs to do more than dangle a carrot. First management must be committed and fair. The rewards must be obtainable. The time periods should be short. Encourage teamwork. Reward group efforts. Give out tangible prizes. Prizes that can sit on their desktop at work will remind them, and others, to be safety-conscious the remainder of the year.
KHT Insurance, in Fort Worth, TX, suggests:
Keep rewards relatively small and frequent. Suggestions include t-shirts, hats, pizzas, tickets to events, preferred parking for a month, gift certificates, etc.
Base the incentive on specific, individual acts. This allows you to single out certain ideal behaviors. However, group safety goals can also be rewarded.
Use a variety of rewards and deliver them promptly. Changing incentives from time-to-time will help maintain employee interest in the program.
Establish detailed criteria to measure employee performance. Deserving employees can only be rewarded if supervisors know what to watch for. Establish and record criteria that will help keep the election process fair and objective.
Get everyone involved. Kick off the program with a company-wide meeting led by top managers to show your commitment to workplace safety. Employees should not only help create the rewards, but also deliver them to recipients.
Michael LeBoeuf, a management consultant, lists ten basic categories of employee incentives. Besides money, these include:
Time off Stock ownership
Training and education
Parties and other fun activities
Some companies simply have awards. These could be simple awards made on the computer or elaborate items.
In December 2000, the Hellenic Institute of Occupational Health and Safety presented awards to Greek enterprises with outstanding practices in the fields of combating workplace stress and musculoskeletal complaints and replacing dangerous chemical substances.
Some companies take a more creative approach. These approaches seem to focus more on awareness and education.
The Olin Corporation - in Baraboo, WI -- reminds employees of their safety responsibilities each day through a bingo game called B-Safe. AB-Safe number is drawn daily, except on the day following an incident requiring first aid, or for three days if a reportable incident occurs. This heightens employee awareness to injury incidents, and anyone having a bingo at the end of the month receives a gift certificate. Safety is also promoted through a quarterly performance-based award, which recognizes achievement of workforce goals with certificates or safety prizes.
According to G.J.S. Wilde in his book Target Risk (1994), "The effectiveness of incentive programs in enhancing safety has been very clearly established. In a recent review of over 120 published evaluations of different types of occupational accident prevention, incentives were generally found to be more effective in enhancing safety than were engineering improvements, personnel selection and other types of intervention (including disciplinary action, special licensing, and exercise and stress reduction programs). Reductions in accidents per person-hour of between 50% and 80% of the base rate are not uncommon in manufacturing, construction and other industries."
Pfizer, Inc., according to their corporate website, combines a number of programs. They offer on-site lectures on a variety of topics. Lectures could concern diabetes, high blood pressure, and Lyme Disease, to name just a few. Pfizer also offers health screenings and assessments for its employees. Health Fairs are held at Pfizer on a regular basis. Programs such as Smoking Cessation and Weight Watchers are also offered. Their Health & Wellness department contains an ergonomic team which offers employees individual assessments.
Other firms offer prizes, such as gift certificates or monetary prizes. Newfoundland Power offers pay increases or bonuses for work without injuries.
Not everyone is happy about safety incentives. Some, mostly unions it seems, think that incentive programs are scams. Incentive programs, in their opinions, are created so as to move the burden of safety from the employer to the employee.
The United Steelworkers of America (USWA) Union refer to a "blame the worker" safety program. These are, according to USWA, programs that are implemented by management with the intent to decrease the number of reported injuries and shift responsibility for maintaining a safe workplace from management to workers. The USWA cites one example of a "bad" safety incentive: "In a Washington state workplace, workers were offered three tokens worth $1.00 each for every month they went without reporting carpal tunnel syndrome, heat stress or any other work related injury or illness. More tokens were offered quarterly if the entire workforce did not report an injury or illness."
One major Teamster employer that has begun experimenting with safety bingo contests is UPS. In Saddlebrook, N.J., UPS held a Christmas raffle. However, only workers who did not report an injury were eligible for the drawing.
A successful safety incentive program will fulfill the need to raise awareness of safety issues. It will reduce injuries without causing workers to cover up injuries. It would also instill proactive behaviors that create a safe working culture.
You cannot buy safety. An incentive program almost implies that you can. It does not promote injury reduction or accident prevention. Proper training, effective supervision and good human relations motivate more than awards. While reductions in the number of injured workers may show the benefits of a safety incentive program, any gains in worker health and fewer occupational diseases may not readily be apparent.
OSHA may soon be seeing a change. Representative Charlie Norwood (R-GA) would like to see OSHA take a more active role in assisting companies to educate their employees in safety issues. Norwood is the Workforce Protections Subcommittee Chairman. In a May 21, 2001 press release, Norwood states, "I would like to see OSHA, at the time it completes a rule, also provide…[continue]
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