Workplace safety initiatives |

Workplace safety initiatives

Scott Alquist

Safety initiatives can successfully foster safe behavior in businesses with ten to thousands of employees. But not all initiatives are equal; some, in fact, can cause lower morale or even cause more harm because they are inadequately structured. Many factors contribute to both their success and their failure.

Before embarking on this type of program, there are three factors you must consider.

* Does management fully support a safety initiative? If management doesn’t give you their full support, this type of program will fail.

* Who will administer the program? If the responsibility for running this program falls to one safety officer, don’t plan on developing an initiative for more than 100 employees, unless you have more assistance from others or a safety committee or purchase a canned incentive program.

* Will you design your own program or purchase a canned program? If you are short on staff, these types of programs are great as they can do everything for you. They can send you posters and fliers, game cards and everything you need to get your program going. The winners have a catalog or a Web site to use to claim prizes. But you have to draw a line as whether or not you are going to halt the game after a loss-time accident. There has to be some risk vs. reward in this type of program.

Here are some factors to consider before embarking on a safety incentive program.

First, evaluate an initiative to make sure it won’t cause an under-reporting of accidents.

A company I know in Santa Clara, Calif., instituted Safety Bingo. Every day that they went without a loss-time accident, a number was drawn just as in bingo. The prizes ranged in value from a cash-in when someone got a regular bingo or a big prize for a full card. Some clear patterns emerged from this initiative: people were more likely to not report injuries for fear of not winning a big prize. And when there was an accident, many employees got angry and took it upon themselves to find out who cancelled the game.

This program was counter-productive to the safe and healthy workplace that we all strive to provide to all employees. Employees going around and trying to find out who killed the safety game raises issues as well.

Second, don’t unwittingly reward unsafe employees.

Some programs will reward the entire area for not having any loss-time accidents for a quarter or another time period. A problem with this is that it rewards every employee regardless of his or her willingness to work safely. Not having an accident is not an indicator of an employee working safely. Employees work unsafely on a daily basis most never get caught nor do they get involved in an accident. When co-workers see Jim-Bob getting a safety award when they know his unsafe habits, morale deflates and your employees will stop buying into your safety program as a whole.

Despite the pitfalls one may encounter with a safety initiative program, these programs can work if designed properly. A large amusement park in California instituted a Shining Star Card Program where all of the management from the vice president to a front line supervisor gave cards to employees in recognition of their safety habits, whether it was picking up litter, doing a task safely and so on. Once per quarter, the park presented an employee night where prizes were drawn based on the number of Shining Star cards individual employees earned.

This was a successful program because:

* It was supported not only by top management at the park, but by the parent company as well. They were the ones paying for the prizes.

* Employees had to be observed doing something good or correct in order to get a Shining Star card. This eliminated rewarding unsafe employees.

* The peer pressure to do the right thing was huge. Employees saw their equals getting everything from CD players and movie tickets to a Hawaiian vacation for doing what they knew they should be doing anyway. This reinforced safety principles.

* This system wasn’t based on everyone’s involvement and did not foster ill-will toward fellow employees.

Employees either worked safe and received recognition, or they worked unsafe and exposed themselves to injury or illness and possible discipline.

So, should your company determine that a safety-initiative program is something you want to explore, please consider it carefully. Weigh the pros and the cons, look at implementation costs, look at the on-going expenses and look to your employee. They really can be your best barometer as to whether this type of program will have the effect you are seeking. Safety initiatives are not a one-size-fits-all cure. In fact, the desired results take careful planning, monitoring and reinforcement. And always remember that your employees are looking to their supervisors, managers and even the company owner as their example and that all the incentives in world cannot convince an employee to work safely if they are not led by example!

Scott Alquist is the manager of the Truckee Meadows Community College safety center and is the program manager for all safety, OSHA and regulatory compliance courses for TMCC Workforce Development and Continuing Education Division. Contact him at


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