I recently came across an interesting article in Incentive Magazine about safety incentives. The authors (Leo Borlo and Joshua Klapow) lament our collective hesitation to go beyond social reinforcers to more tangible rewards when safety is concerned. While the authors appear to have non-cash tangible rewards in mine (i.e., gift cards, shirts), I think the discussion also has relevance to the world of cash incentives, where the issue of incorporating safety behaviors and outcomes can be a sensitive one.
From the article:
What is fascinating here is that there is a distinction made between safety programs and all other initiatives to influence employee behavior, even though the common denominator in any incentive program, be it safety, productivity, performance, or wellness, is behavior change. Trying to change safety-related behaviors is no different than trying to change health- or productivity-related behaviors. Using positive consequences to shape behaviors should be the general operating procedure in any attempt to influence employee safety behavior. With this foundation, BBS programs can and should exist on the same platform as productivity, employee recognition, and health programs.
In particular I note (and repeat) the sentence (underline mine): Trying to change safety-related behaviors is no different than trying to change health- or productivity-related behaviors.
Agree with them on this point? Boy, I'm not sure I do. I have worked with a range of organizations over the years - particularly in industries like heavy manufacturing, primary metals and construction where safety is an enormous thing - where we've had sometimes agonizing discussions as to whether and how to incorporate safety as an incentive plan measure.
Unintended consequences, of course, are the bain of all incentive design efforts, but I think the risk of these are fundamentally unacceptable when it comes to employee safety. The obvious concern with many commonly used safety metrics is that you'll drive people to ignore or under-report hazards and incidents, but there are also concerns that go beyond this obvious one.
To me, the risks associated with over-reporting productivity and under-reporting safety incidents are simply not of equal severity and magnitude. And so I think I disagree with Borlo and Klapow on the point above.
Should rewards be used to incent greater attention to safety? Is it a good idea to include safety metrics in a broad-based employee incentive plan? I guess my response is possibly ... and carefully. At least this is the approach I've taken with the plans I've helped develop.
How about you? Thoughts on or experiences with safety incentive to share here? Please do!
Next up: Is it Ethical to Incent Ethics?! Just kidding...