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Doing It Right: Safety Incentive Programs

Over the years, I’ve received a lot of client questions regarding safety incentive programs, a program that rewards employees for safe behavior.

Jessica Bohan, MPH, CSP, OHST  -- Safety and Health Consultant

Jessica Bohan, MPH, CSP, OHST

Safety and Health Consultant

These questions include:

  • Do safety incentive programs work?
  • What are the positives and negatives of a safety incentive program?
  • What incentive programs have I seen other businesses use that are successful?
  • What types of incentives are employers giving?

These questions have no easy, clearly-defined answers. That’s because each employer has a specific culture or vibe within their company. An incentive program that works for one company may not work for another. So let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of incentive programs and give you some different ideas to try.

Setting Goals and Assessing Culture

First, you need to identify why you want to start a safety incentive program. Is it to reward employees for safe behavior or to help to motivate positive behavior changes? Do you have a budget to support the program? Is top management involved and on-board? Will employees have an opportunity to help design and implement the program? Does the program directly relate to your desired safety goals and objectives?

Next, you will want to think about your company’s culture, what many consider the most important component of a safety incentive program. Rewarding employees for accident-free days with prizes or food will not mean much if the culture of employee involvement and management commitment to a safe workplace does not exist (Wright, 2012). Furthermore, your program must have purpose, be meaningful and achievable and have measurable goals. Some ideas submitted by the Michigan Municipal Workers’ Compensation Fund include:

  • Specific number of safe days per department
  • Safe employee contests
  • No accident, no absenteeism
  • Safety quizzes
  • Safety quote lottery system
  • Safety suggestions
  • What is wrong with this picture challenges
  • Good housekeeping contests

Other goals or incentives might include:

  • Participation on the safety committee or safety teams
  • Safety training participation
  • Helping shadow or partner with new employees for safe behaviors (Florczak, C. 2002).

Things to Look Out For

According to Wright (Occupational Health & Safety, September 2012), you want to avoid a safety and health incentive program that discourages employees to report injuries or illnesses. Employees must understand that injuries need to be reported. Improperly implemented safety incentive programs can discourage an injured employee from reporting injuries. For example, employees may fear retaliation from co-workers or shame in ruining the company’s injury-free record. OSHA has published a memo regarding the impact of a safety incentive program’s effect on an employee’s ability and right to report injuries. OSHA cites fear of retaliation and disciplinary actions by the employee as major obstacles in any safety incentive program. This and other issues can lead to non-reporting of injuries, which could lead to violations in the federal whistleblower statues. You can view this article here at http://www.osha.gov/as/opa/whistleblowermemo.html.

It is also important that your safety program does not become an entitlement program, one that is too routine or boring to the employees, punitive or irrelevant (Potter, C. & Potter, D. October 2007). You can avoid these pitfalls by designing a program with a specific time-frame in mind, ensuring safety is a core value at all times, involving employees in the process, allowing employees to participate in establishing goals for the program, and setting high expectations for safe behavior (Potter, C. & Potter, D. 2007).

A well-designed and managed safety incentive program offers many benefits. But for it to be truly successful, you must establish safety as a core value for your company, set well-defined goals and objectives for the incentive program and have employees participate.

I find that rewarding positive behavior is far more effective than correcting negative behavior. A safety incentive program will help validate your company’s commitment to safety while also creating a fun and challenging environment for all employees to participate in the many safety opportunities your company has to offer. Good luck!


Florczak, C. (2002). Maximizing profitability with safety culture development. Butterworth Heinemann. USA.

Michigan Municipal Workers’ Compensation Fund (n.d.). Safety Incentive Programs. Retrieved 1/29/2013 from www.mml.org/insurance/shared/publications/s_and_h_manual/3g.pdf

Potter, C and Potter, D (October 2007). EHS Today. The truth about safety incentives. Retreived 1/29/2013 from http://ehstoday.com/safety/incentives/ehs_imp_72584

Wright, H. Occupational Safety & Health. “OSHA’s Stance on Safety Incentive Programs”. Retrieved January 29, 2013 from http://ohsonline.com/Articles/2012/09/01/OSHAs-stance-on-safety-incentive-programs.aspx?p=1