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Don’t Incentivize Workplace Safety

Let’s say you work for one of these companies that has heavy machinery, sharp blades and furnaces. Sounds pretty cool, right? Okay, maybe that’s just me. I love industrial workplaces. Places where things are made, where real work gets done and you shake an employees hand and it feels like you just put your hand into a sandpaper vise. You wear safety glasses and a hard hat when you walk around but let’s face it: if something really went wrong, none of those things would protect you.

I’ve always thought that workplaces that incentivize workplace safety with money, prizes or a drawing don’t understand how workplace safety works at all. They think they can treat it like any other business problem but they can’t. There are other factors in play. Paul Hebert over at I2I explains some of his reasoning from a motivation standpoint and I wanted to expand on what he had to say.

All rewards are either too small to matter or too big to not cover up minor injuries or issues. Neither one of these outcomes are acceptable if you want a truly effective workplace safety program. A tote bag or $25 isn’t enough to impact your decision making. If it were $1,000, you would be likely to cover up minor injuries to keep the bonus. Safety is one of those things where there is no happy middle.

It is trying to take a one size fits all approach to something that simply can’t be fitted that way. Here’s how I’ve seen programs successfully done without reward based incentives:

  1. Communicate expectations — Amazing how we usually skip over this part. When you clearly define what your expectations are, you can have an immediate impact on the safety.
  2. Fix systematic issues and processes — If there is a culture of toughing it out or managers who don’t take action on reported injuries or issues, it is time to fix those sorts of problems.
  3. Proactively addressing safety hazards — It seems like a common sense thing but it often gets overlooked.
  4. Coach underperformers — Whether it be thoughtlessness, laziness or whatever the reason, managers have to coach the people that propagate near misses and injuries.
  5. Safety is its own motivation and reward — Everyone I’ve worked with wants to work in a safe environment. When people aren’t getting hurt at work, people appreciate that.

These techniques, when customized and implemented throughout organizations, have more impact on safety than any incentive scheme you can think of.

Now if your finance department is hassling you about costs, I can’t stress enough that working closely with your workers compensation insurance provider is likely going to save you a lot more money than any incentive program you can dream of. If you don’t have tight oversight of your process already, it is time to buckle down and start examining how the insurance company has handled claims on your behalf.

What safety programs have you seen that have worked effectively?

By Lance Haun

Strategy for The Starr Conspiracy. Former HR pro. Portland guy (Go Blazers!) and WSU alum (Go Cougs!). I get to write about what I want here.

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