As another new year rolls around, you may be doing some safety assessments around your shop, looking both for successes and areas where you can improve.
One important thing to address is the number of injuries or accidents that occurred in your shop in 2018. Was it more than
the prior year? Or did you decrease injury rates by a significant number this year compared to last year?
If you’re seeing more accidents or near-misses and finding that injury rates are rising, or if you just want to get a better handle on workplace safety, you might consider an incentive program that rewards your staff when injury rates are low. It doesn’t have to break the bank or be extravagant. Keep in mind, though, that OSHA has regulations in place regarding workplace safety incentive programs.
Among other things, safety incentive programs can be an important tool to promote workplace safety and health. One type of incentive program rewards workers for reporting near-misses or hazards, and encourages involvement in a safety and health management
system. For example, an employee notices that an electrical cord is frayed around the edges, but the tool is still being used on an everyday basis. Another employee notices that when deliveries are made each week, the delivery person stacks the boxes in the hallway, which sometimes blocks the exit door.
Each of these employees has taken the initiative to notice a hazard and report it to management. Was the incentive to get some type of tangible reward, or did the employees report the hazards to help prevent an accident? If you’re promoting a culture of safety in the daily workings of your shop, you can bet the report was at least in part to help run a safer shop. But even if the reason to report was the potential to receive a reward, don’t you want employees reporting or taking the initiative to fix hazards no matter what the reason?
When management takes positive action under this type of incentive program, it’s permissible by OSHA under 29 CFR 1904.35(b)(1)(iv). Positive action means that the employer consistently enforces legitimate work rules, whether or not an injury or illness is reported. This demonstrates that the employer is serious about creating a culture of safety. On the other hand, if an employer took action to penalize an employee for reporting a work-related injury or illness, it would be a violation of the OSHA regulation mentioned above.
Another type of incentive program is rate-based and focuses on reducing the number of reported injuries and illnesses. This type of program typically rewards employees with a prize or bonus at the end of an injury-free month or evaluates managers based on their work unit’s lack of injuries. These types of programs are acceptable under OSHA as long as they are not established in a way that discourages employees to report.
For example, if a shop manager was to take an adverse action against an employee under a rate-based incentive program, such as withholding a prize or bonus because of a reported injury, OSHA would not cite the employer as long as the employer has established adequate measures to ensure that employees feel free to report an injury or illness.
Whether you choose this type of program may depend on the size of your shop and the typical number of injuries or accidents your shop experiences per year.
Making It Stick
It’s not enough to just say that employees are encouraged to report and will not face retaliation for reporting, especially when the consequence for reporting may be a lost opportunity to receive a nice reward or incentive. More importantly, shops can avoid the negative perception of a rate-based incentive program by taking positive steps to create a workplace culture that emphasizes safety, not just injury rates.
Some examples include:
- A program that rewards employees for identifying or fixing unsafe conditions in the workplace
- A training program for all employees to reinforce the role of safety in the shop, as well as employee reporting rights and responsibilities
- A way to evaluate employees’ willingness to report injuries and illness, such as anonymous questionnaires submitted by the safety committee
As a manager, your goal should be shop safety at all times. But putting a program in place that rewards employees for making safety a priority can be a good idea when it is implemented correctly – and for the right reasons.