News | July 7, 2003

Dispelling Popular Myths About Safety Incentives

Source: The Bill Sims Company, Inc.

By Bill Sims

"We don't need to reward safe performance. We give people a paycheck and they deserve nothing more for working safely."

If it is true that no deserves a bonus in return for doing what is expected of them, then why are almost all Fortune 500 chief executive officers given year end bonuses based on company performance? Why is it fair to reward them for good performance while ignoring the contributions made by the thousands of hourly people below them?

"Rewards do not effect the attitudes that underlie unsafe behavior. They merely cause employees not to report injury."

Actually, many incentive programs now reward employees for reporting injuries. Employees are recognized and rewarded for reporting and correcting unsafe acts and conditions before injuries can occur. Other popular incentive only offer incentives for taking pro-active safety steps, such as attending safety meetings, passing safety inspections, and other things.

"By instituting reward programs, management ignores the true cause of the problem ... rewards discourage changing the safety system."

W.R. Grace documented over 1800 bright ideas from it's employees, with over 50% of these ideas centered on improving the process to enhance safety.

"Safety rewards are unnecessary. All of us have intrinsic motivation. We should be willing to do a job safely for the money we receive."

In a study by Dr. Kenneth Kovach, quoted by Bob Nelson in his book 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, recognition for a job well done is the single most important factor in employee job satisfaction.. And those same employees said that 68% of the time that they were not recognized enough by upper management. Employees who leave a job or quit a job in another survey consistently rank lack of recognition and praise as the number one reason cited for leaving. So recognizing people for being safe fills a vital need that all of us have.

Further, the Workmen's Compensation system is a temptation many employees cannot resist. Many companies report fraudulent claims and abuses. That's because Workmen's Compensation itself is an incentive program that rewards people who don't return to work. Many companies report that a healthy safety incentive program helps them combat the temptation of Work Comp fraud.

Clearly, no one knows all the secrets of human nature and employee motivation--it is a constantly changing and highly complex subject. But that's what makes it so intriguing. One thing can be said for sure, though--companies that experiment and learn how to use incentives and recognition often significantly improve safety at a much faster rate than companies that do not. And these companies also have higher morale and lower turnover than companies who think managing people is only about cutting a paycheck every Friday.

Bill Sims, Jr., is President of Bill Sims Award of Excellence, a company that specializes in developing tax free incentive programs without injury-hiding. The company is located in Irmo, S.C.