Incentive Programs

The use of incentive programs has increased in the past few years. The idea is to reward groups or departments that do not have any safety accidents. The thought is that people work safer when they know there is a reward, and therefore, there are no accidents to report.

In fact, what may be happening is that employees do not report injuries. This means employees are not getting the necessary treatment for their injuries. Often, the other employees in the group will discourage the injured employee from reporting. Employees end up watching each other. The employer then does not have any accidents to report on its injury and illness forms (OSHA 200 logs).

Non-reporting hides the hazards for the time being, but the hazards are still there. Eventually another employee may be hurt. Also, minor injuries often predict more serious accidents. Reporting an injury calls attention to the hazard. It allows the health and safety professional to evaluate the circumstances and to put corrective measures in place to avoid future accidents.

Incentive programs, which include trinkets, lottos and bingos, that are being used in private industry are not common in the federal government. However, behavior-based safety programs are gaining popularity. More government health and safety programs may include these programs in the future.

Behavior-based safety programs are based on the idea that positive reinforcement leads to change. It usually does, but some programs use incentives and rewards as positive reinforcement--which they are not. These programs are also based on the notion that positive reinforcement works in the safety area. They involve someone "observing" the worker to see if there is an unsafe behavior. The observer then gives the worker feedback, either suggesting ways to correct an unsafe act, or giving praise as positive reinforcement.

Behavior-based safety programs tend to put the burden on the employee to change her health and safety behavior and not on the employer to change the work environment. Employee behavior and attitude toward safety are important, but the job should be engineered to remove or reduce the hazard. Of course, as employees you play an important role in injury prevention. Your responsibilities include following safe work practices, observing rules and regulations, and wearing appropriate personal protective equipment.

Do not be convinced that programs like this--by themselves--will prevent problems. Hazards should be abated and employees should be encouraged to report them early. Make sure the agency's health and safety program includes training for employees an prompt medical care for injuries and illnesses. Teaching employees how to do their job safely, how to avoid the risks of their jobs, and providing them with the proper protective equipment, is a better way to prevent accidents, keep injury rates and related costs down and keep people working.

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