Reward Programmes: The Route to a Safer Workplace

How Incentive and Recognition Strategies Can Create a Zero-Accident Mindset

The causes of accidents may vary, but the workplace in many industries is a dangerous place. More than 300,000 people are killed every year in accidents at work around the world. How could recognition and reward schemes help to reduce that figure?

It's actually much more straightforward than you might think - recognition and reward is an essential part of reinforcing positive behaviour in the workplace, but it's not just effective for improving performance. The same techniques can be applied to an organisation's health and safety mindset, instilling a positive approach by recognising and rewarding people who get it right.

How big of an issue is workplace safety?

Around the world, a worker dies from an occupational accident every 15 seconds. That’s 321,000 people a year, from an estimated 317 million accidents at work. These International Labour Organisation (ILO) figures show the human cost of accidents, but there is also an economic price to pay. The ILO puts the cost of accidents and disease in the workplace at 4% of the world’s GDP, or about $2.8 trillion every year.

Are safety risks limited to industry or construction?

A cafeteria cook, an office worker or a facilities manager may not seem particularly to be at risk, but the truth is, accidents can occur anywhere. There are staircases in nearly every type of work setting, for example. It just takes a single distraction to forget to place a warning sign near a freshly mopped staircase - or to leave a box unattended in a hallway - to create an unsafe environment.

What's the impact on companies?

Internally, it’s now a major issue for managers, who have a duty of care towards employees. Externally, there is market pressure for a company to be a “good citizen” – one that looks after its employees – along with increasing pressure from regulatory authorities. For example, companies can be prevented from responding to an invitation to tender if their Lost Time Injury Rate (LTIR) is not good enough. Combine this with absences, lost productivity, raised insurance premiums and repairs, and the financial impact can be substantial.

Why is it important to improve workplace behaviours?

Studies have shown that 52% of people would not intervene if they saw an unsafe behavoiur, 79% do not know where to log a Health and Safety (H&S) concern and 82% have never reported an H&S concern. The starting point for employee incentive programmes is that most accidents are down to the human factor, rather than machinery, and that the safety incentive is not just to follow procedures, but to be proactive in identifying and dealing with risks. So, if you notice a pool of water or oil, or a dangling cable, you should get it cleared up. It’s not just about your own safety, but being responsible for those around you as well.

But are these not just minor details?

No, because safety is a pyramid. At the base, you have near-misses and minor incidents, and at the top are serious accidents. And there is a correlation: for every 600 near-misses, there are 10 minor accidents and one serious accident. Our safety programs target the base of the pyramid, where we can make a real impact in terms of accident prevention – which then feeds up to the top. By linking the rewards to prevention, rather than a lagging indicator such as the LTIR, you can avoid the risk of incidents being under-reported. Supported by a strong management culture and continuous improvement, it's possible to achieve a target of zero accidents.

So how does a reward system work?

By identifying a set of six major preventive actions that drive safety at work and that should be rewarded - safety observations, safety suggestions, safety walks, safety toolbox talks, safety quizzes and behavioural observations - it's possible to incentivise people to change their behaviour in a measurable way. You know what's being improved, and people know what they need to do to receive rewards.

To these preventive actions, it's incredibly effective to add two types of recognition: peer-to-peer, and nominations for safety awards. These might be putting a congratulatory post-it note on someone’s workstation, praising them in public, entering them for a prize draw, or giving an award through a reward and recognition platform. Taken together, these small-scale initiatives change people’s behaviours in a big way and make a real impact to an organisation’s safety culture, driving them to a zero accident mindset and continuous improvement.

Apart from avoiding accidents, what are the other benefits of a stronger safety culture?

Safe environments do far more than prevent accidents. Individuals working under safe conditions do their jobs quicker and more efficiently, and are confident that when they point out something that's not safe, it's going to get fixed. What’s more, they feel listened to and recognised for their efforts – improving their quality of life significantly.

There are also plenty of benefits for employers, too. Not only do they experience a reduction of direct and indirect costs of accidents at company level, getting a return on investment from their reward programme, but they also increase operational excellence, productivity and employee engagement. Implementing rewards rather than penalties allows organisations to drive both leading and lagging indicators. The final impact is a reduction of LTIR and Total Case Incident Rate (TCIR), or the achievement of zero accidents.

How do you maintain long-term success?

It's important to take a behaviour-led recognition approach and not a policy, policing and penalty one. To help maintain the longevity of an incentive and recognition programme, we would advise keeping it fresh and engaging staff with health and safety initiatives such as a quiz, training or new campaign for example, focusing on electricity related risks for one year and storage practices the following year. Don’t forget to review your initiatives and rewards and make necessary adjustments to ensure the success of your programme and minimise the risk of injuries.