Employers Group Blog Connection

Why OSHA is Wrong About Safety Incentive Programs

Posted by Nicole Vierzba on Tue, Oct 2, 2012

Recently, OSHA sent a bulletin out that cautioned employers about the use of safety incentive programs, based on the concern that injuries may go unreported, either due to peer pressure, or the overriding desire of a worker to win an award.

OSHA is wrong to take that position without any caveats, because the positive effects of a comprehensive safety incentive program far outweigh the negatives.

The first mistake OSHA makes is in suggesting that rewarding teams for safe performance is “discriminatory” against teams or departments with injuries. Since when is it discriminatory to reward good performance? Should all salesmen earn the same commission because it is discriminatory against those who sell less? Should successful managers be denied raises or promotions because it discriminates against those managers that did not perform as well?

The second fallacy in OSHA’s position is that workers are easily dissuaded from reporting legitimate injuries. They give little credit to the intelligence, common sense or credibility of workers. In our experience of running safety incentive programs for almost ten years, an injured worker wants treatment for an injury, and that is by far his primary concern.

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Compare OSHA’s attempts to discourage the use of incentive programs with the benefits. The purpose of a good plan is to raise awareness of safe behavior, provide encouragement and motivation to exercise caution and perform the jobs safely, and convey the message of how important the worker’s individual safety is to the company. When an organization shows that they care about safety, workers take it more seriously. The attitude that workers have about safety is often a direct reflection of the attitude they think the company has about safety. Our interactive monthly safety awards meetings are always attended by managers who congratulate and thank winning teams and individuals for being safe. That kind of recognition, appreciation and reward strongly reinforces the importance of safety. The awards and recognition are both important components, because they are earned.

Maybe OSHA is only thinking about simplistic programs like “bingo”, but if so, they need to investigate the wonderful, positive results that are being achieved by robust, interactive programs before they taint all safety incentive programs with their broad brush of negativity.

Finally, OSHA completely ignores the benefits of injuries that do not ever happen, thanks to motivational incentive programs. If their premise were true, and an occasional minor injury did go unreported, but ten injuries never occurred thanks to greater awareness, would that justify their position? The goal of our program is to strengthen the whole safety culture by demonstrating how important safety is. Preventing injuries from ever happening is the best possible outcome, and strong, comprehensive safety incentive / achievement programs help companies and organizations achieve that outcome.


Post courtesy of Joe Stevens, President, Bridge Safety Consultants.

Bridge Safety Consultants is a consulting practice based in Playa Del Rey, CA. Since 2003, Bridge Safety Consultants have been bringing strategies, ideas, recommendations, and a dynamic safety achievement program to companies and organizations that want to strengthen their culture, have fewer injuries, and reduce their workers' comp costs.


Topics: compliance, workers compensation, safety program, osha, safety