Safety pays – in this case, literally. Since the dawn of workplace safety, employers have tried to find ways to motivate employees to engage in safe behavior. They know that employees are under pressure to perform and that productivity and safety are often viewed in opposition. But they also know that their businesses cannot afford to ignore safety in favor of productivity.
To try to reconcile the gap and motivate employees, some businesses came up with an inventive solution: a safety rewards program that rewards employees for engaging in safe behavior.
Here, we’re taking a closer look at the real benefits of a well-executed, carefully implemented safety rewards program.
One of the most basic benefits of a safety reward program is positive reinforcement, a basic tenet of operant conditioning. Remember Pavlov’s dog, the best-known case of classical conditioning? The premise is similar.
In operant conditioning, positive reinforcement is the introduction of a positive stimulus to reward favorable behavior, making it more likely that the behavior will occur again in the future (as opposed to negative reinforcement, where a negative stimulus is removed when a negative behavior ceases).
In positive reinforcement, for example, you would give a dog a treat if they sat down when told to do so. Or, in a workplace safety case, your boss might give you a bonus after reducing your Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR).
The premise is the same in a safety rewards program. You recognize positive safety behavior and reward it, demonstrating to your employees that you care about this behavior.
However, you have to be careful in how you approach this. Many programs rely on lagging indicators to generate rewards, which means it’s easy for employees to put pressure on each other or receive pressure from their managers to underreport safety problems in exchange for a bonus.
The goal of these programs is not to cut down on lagging indicators. The goal is to reduce the occurrence of safety incidents by promoting safety awareness in your employees.
For that reason, you should not reward your employees for lagging indicators alone. Instead, you should reward employees for demonstrating that they’ve learned key safety concepts and taking steps to protect their colleagues.
Keep in mind the purpose of your program and communicate that purpose to your employees. You want to promote safe behavior, not sweep unsafe behavior under the rug. This will take some careful navigation by your EHS team to nail down the rewards system and communication, but the payoff is worth the trouble.
Building Your Safety Rewards Program
Creating your safety rewards program starts with the best tools in the business. That’s where we can help.
Our work observations software is the perfect complement to your safety rewards program, allowing your team to note changes in unsafe behavior over time and make adjustments to keep your rewards program on track. It all comes back to awareness – for employees and EHS teams alike.