Recognise This! – Many safety incentives programmes simply encourage under-reporting. Truly strategic safety recognition programmes make safe behaviours and results the core to success.

I’m passionate about social recognition, especially recognition that drives strategic organisation goals and core values. But I’m particularly passionate about safety recognition programmes. And that’s because so many safety recognition programmes are implemented in an entirely inappropriate and even harmful way, actually creating a more unsafe environment.

The classic example of this is the “X Days Since Last Safety Incident” programme. Usually, employees are rewarded if they achieve a certain number of safe days. All this does, however, is encourage people to sweep safety concerns or incidents under the rug. “If it’s not reported, it didn’t happen.” And so unsafe conditions, behaviours or practices continue unabated.

In the US, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is cracking down on these programmes. As reported here, an OSHA survey found “wholesale underreporting” of injuries due, in part, to employees feeling pressured to not report incidents. The article goes on to say:

“In 2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report that found that 22 percent of manufacturers had rate-based safety incentive programs. The GAO concluded that these programs can be problematic, especially at workplaces where a strong safety culture is lacking. Also that year, OSHA issued a memo that took aim at incentive programs that could skew injury data. The memo reminded employers that they cannot discriminate against an employee for exercising the right to report an injury. (OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) also discourages these types of programs.)”

OSHA may move to force companies to end safety and incentive recognition programmes that encourage under-reporting such as the “X days since last safety incident” type of programme. Indeed, I consulted with an organisation in the energy industry that had exactly this feedback from OSHA on their safety programme. That company came to us to ask what to do instead.

In line with OSHA recommendations to use recognition to promote worker participation in safety activities, our safety recognition programme recommendations include:

  1. Defining core safety values and associated behaviours that clearly outline what you expect from employees. Such values should reflect your desire for employees to proactively report potentially hazardous or unsafe conditions or behaviours.
  2. Encourage all employees to recognise each other for living these safety values. This has a two-fold benefit: (1) You have more “eyes” noticing good safety practices and (2) You’re making all employees responsible for creating a positive, safe workplace and work culture.
  3. Lead by example. Particularly with safety recognition programmes, make recognising safe behaviours a part of management KPIs or similar.

How does this align with OSHA’s guidance for legal safety incentive and recognition programmes? The article reference above suggested legal programmes should (quoting):

Is safety a core value or business objective in your workplace? How do you encourage safe behaviours and create a safe workplace for your employees?