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WORKSPAN DAILY |

How Safe Is it to Incentivize Safety?


Editor’s NoteWorkspan Daily will be reproducing a monthly Compensation Café blog post for the benefit of our readers and to encourage further discourse on topics vital to compensation professionals. New to WorldatWork? Please feel free to join the discussion in our new online community, Engage, or send your thoughts to workspan@worldatwork.org.

A few years ago, I came across an interesting article in Incentive Magazine about safety incentives (unfortunately, the article is no longer available on the site).  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 mind (i.e., gift cards, shirts), I think this discussion also has relevance to the world of cash incentives, where the issue of incorporating safety behaviors and outcomes can be a tricky 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: Trying to change safety-related behaviors is no different than trying to change health- or productivity-related behaviors.

Do you agree with them on this point?  I don't think I do. I have worked with a range of organizations over the years — particularly in industries such as heavy manufacturing, primary metals and construction where safety is an enormous thing — and have been a part of sometimes agonizing discussions as to whether and how to incorporate safety as an incentive plan measure.

Unintended consequences, of course, are the bane of all incentive design efforts, but I think the risk of these can be 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 concerns that go beyond this obvious one.

Is trying to change safety-related behaviors any different from trying to change productivity-related behaviors? 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 would be possibly ... and only very 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 …

About the Author

Ann Bares is the founder and editor of Compensation Café and managing partner of Altura Consulting Group LLC.

This article was first published at Compensation Café on Oct. 22, 2021.


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