Recognise This! – Rewarding employees for no safety incidents encourages the wrong behaviour. Instead, recognise employees for proactively eliminating safety hazards and creating a safe work environment for everyone.

Does your company have an employee safety programme? Even in organisations with largely office-based staff, keeping employee safety front-of-mind not only benefits employees and leadership by reducing lost days to illness or injury, but also communicates to employees that the company does, indeed, care about their health and well-being.

Of course, in industries including manufacturing, construction, engineering, energy and the like, environment, health and safety (EHS) is often paramount to company success. In the U.S., regulatory agencies like OSHA can shut down work sites or impose fines that can cost a company future contracts. In these organisations with a commitment to safety, consulting on the importance of recognition takes on a new level of urgency.

Nearly every company with a strong EHS programme also offers some kind of incentive or reward programme to encourage desired results. More rare, however, are programmes that, first and foremost, reinforce desired behaviours. Case in point – the very typical “no safety incidents” awards. These are structured quite simply such that if no incidents are incurred or reported, then employees are rewarded. But in many cases, these types of programmes only serve to encourage employees to sweep incidents under the rug.

Another challenge is the often reactive stance towards safety challenges. Far better to promote proactively desired behaviours that create a safe work environment. For example:

  1. Determine 3-5 core values for safety in your workplace, e.g., innovation, courage, leadership and proactive risk elimination.
  2. Structure a strategic safety recognition programme to encourage anyone to recognise others when they demonstrate critical behaviours in line with these values, leading to a safer work environment. For example, recognise a colleague for “courage” when he chose to shut down a work site until an unsafe situation could be resolved.
  3. Very strongly communicate to and train employees on the new approach to recognising and rewarding key safety values and behaviours. Make sure the emphasis is put on recognising and rewarding daily behaviours and actions that lead to a safer work environment (and not just avoidance of safety incidents).
  4. Use the data now available to you through the safety recognition programme to feature those people who more often contribute to a safe work environment.
  5. Keep the momentum going by regularly sharing detailed stores of safety recognition around a particular value each month.

What other recommendations do you have creating a strong culture of safety?