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Workers Compensation

Safety Incentive Programs - Pros and Cons


Have you ever wondered whether a safety incentive program could be a useful tool for reducing injuries in your workplace?

There are two common types of these programs — rate-based and behavior-based. Rate-based programs may allow for rewards such as bonuses and prizes for having no (or a limited number) of work-related injuries and illnesses, while behavior-based programs focus on safe behaviors but are not tied to low injury and illness rates.

Debate rages on about the effectiveness of such programs and there is growing awareness of the need to address both their potential and their pitfalls. The problem is that some programs, intentionally or unintentionally, provide employees with an incentive to NOT report injuries.

Significance of reporting injuries and illness

In a recent report, the U.S. Government Accountability Office recommended that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) examine the effects of safety incentive programs on reporting of injuries.1

Knowing the effects — positive and negative — of incentives is important for businesses to accurately assess workplace safety. Most experts agree that issues tend to stem from rate-based programs, which may discourage reporting in a variety of ways. For example, incentives sometimes create peer pressure because a team may get a reward only if no one in the group has an injury.

The phenomenon of not reporting injuries has been nicknamed “bloody pocket syndrome” (named for an employee who cuts a finger and puts his hand in his pocket instead of reporting the injury for fear of blowing the team’s chance at an incentive).

Underreporting incidents can lead to the continuation of hazardous conditions and dangerous behaviors in the workplace. By choosing to reward and reinforce safe actions with a behavior-based approach, businesses can be sure their safety incentive programs are fulfilling their intended purpose of a safer workplace for all.

Components of a successful safety incentive program

With nearly three million nonfatal workplace injuries and illnesses reported by private industry employers in 20112, businesses are seeking ways to maintain a safe and secure workplace.

Positive results may be achieved when you create an organizational structure that allows individuals to take responsibility for their own safety as well as the safety of their co-workers. How can you help achieve this goal? Here are some examples to help your business.

Design your program to emphasize positive reinforcement of safe behaviors rather than rewarding behaviors that may result in unreported injuries.

  1. Include employees in the setting of goals and rewards.
  2. Foster an environment of open communication about safety issues and the reporting of incidents.
  3. Provide regular feedback to employees on the progress being made toward meeting safety goals.
  4. Hold a recognition party at the successful completion of company-wide safety training.
  5. Regularly evaluate the effectiveness of your safety incentive program.

Most importantly, make your incentive program just one component of a broad safety-minded culture that focuses on encouraging safe worker behaviors for all.

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1 GAO-12-329, Workplace Safety and Health, Better OSHA Guidance Needed on Safety Incentive Programs, April 2012
2 2011 Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, October 2012

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