Safety incentive programs might seem trivial, but they can save lives (literally) when implemented correctly. However, there's a fine line between launching a well-thought-out safety program and a superficial look-a-like. One takes meaningful strategy, intention, and goal-setting—the other checks a box.
Workplace accidents and malpractice killed 5,190 workers in the United States in 2021 (an 8.9% increase from 2020), and an additional 2,607,900 suffered non-fatal injuries and illnesses. While zero fatalities might sound like an unrealistic expectation, it's the only goal—anything else is unacceptable.
Managers and companies are responsible for protecting their employees, and that starts with better business practices. Your business might be accountable to customers and shareholders, but you're more liable to your trusted staff and their families at home.
Whether you're brand new to safety incentive programs or looking to revamp your existing arrangement, we've compiled all the information you need to know in 2023.
Below, we'll walk you through what a safety incentive program is (and isn't), how it works, real-life examples, and best practices for implementing an effective program.
What Is a Safety Incentive Program?
A safety incentive program is a formal engagement that encourages and rewards employees for practicing safe behavior and performance.
Safety protocols aren't always the most efficient way to get work done, and cutting corners and risking personal safety to increase productivity can be a tempting proposition—especially for employees looking for higher compensation or career opportunities.
Safety incentive programs discourage employees from taking unnecessary risks. Instead, they recognize and compensate workers who follow risk management protocols and hazard awareness.
Your staff shouldn't have to debate between making the safe decision and getting a bonus—a safety incentive program helps them do both. For example, you might reward a team with an end-of-quarter bonus if they experience no accidents in the workplace, or you might give key safety promoters custom awards or trophies.
Obviously, not every workplace or job description will involve safety elements. Most stereotypical desk jobs don't include much risk. However, the following industries can typically benefit from a safety incentive program:
- Industrial services
- Research and testing
- Hazardous material disposal
- Service jobs
- Health services
- Education services
Don't wait until there's an injury (or worse) to launch a safety incentive program. Begin building a culture of zero fatalities from the get-go.
The Importance and Benefits of Safety Incentive Programs
Safety programs aren't just good for employees—they're good for business. Keeping your employees safe boosts morale and retention and decreases potential lawsuits and fines.
Here are a few of the most business-critical benefits of safety incentive programs:
Reduced Workplace Accidents and Injuries
Some hazards you can't avoid—such as a pinched finger or a stubbed toe. However, other more life-altering injuries and illnesses shouldn't be part of the job description.
It's your business's job to create safety protocols to ensure the security and longevity of your employees. Your employees will still have the freedom to make their own decisions (you can't stop that), but you can encourage them to make safer choices in the workplace with a program that recognizes and incentivizes preventive measures.
Improved Employee Morale and Engagement
Employees want to work for businesses and supervisors that value their well-being. Safety programs show your staff that their health is more important than profit, and you're willing to recognize, celebrate, and reward employees that exhibit the right behaviors.
When workers don't have to compromise between health and paychecks, they're happier at work. They're also healthier, and that's better for improving retention and reducing unnecessary sick leave.
Cost Savings for Your Business
Reducing workplace accidents is good for your conscience and bottom line. More workplace accidents can dramatically increase expenses related to the following:
- Medical expenses
- Worker compensation claims
- Productivity losses
- Sick leave
- Medical leave
Showing a consistent track record can also lower your insurance premiums, and that's an ongoing financial benefit for your business.
Compliance with Regulatory Requirements
Beyond the financial benefits and humanitarian focus, the government enforces and regulates safety in the workplace. Fail to do your due diligence or cause an employee to suffer unnecessary injury or illness, and your business could face substantial fines and legal penalties.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to comply with certain safety standards. Its mission (in conjunction with the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970) is:
"To assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women; by authorizing enforcement of the standards developed under the Act; by assisting and encouraging the States in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; by providing for research, information, education, and training in the field of occupational safety and health."
How Do Safety Incentive Programs Work?
In short, safety incentive programs work by setting goals and protocols and rewarding employees that follow them. This could be as simple as recognizing an employee that actually washes their hands for the allotted time or celebrating a team that experiences zero workplace accidents during a month, quarter, or year.
Not every safety incentive program looks the same, but there are a few key elements to ensure they lead to the benefits outlined above. Here's the step-by-step process for building a safety incentive program that works:
- Establish Clear and Measurable Goals
- Create (and Publicize) Meaningful Rewards
- Communicate and Encourage Employee Involvement
- Track Performance and Feedback Regularly
- Evaluate and Adapt Your Program
1. Establish Clear and Measurable Goals
Let your employees know what safety in the workplace looks like. Involve them in the conversation, and let them play a critical role in setting clear and measurable goals. Goals could include the following:
- 100% training completion for all employees
- Reduced number of accidents
- Reduced number of near-miss incidents
- Improved compliance with safety protocols
- X number of consecutive incident-free workdays
Help your employees set measurable goals. It should be clear whether you hit or miss your targets—if it's not, revisit your goals and try to find more quantitative objectives.
2. Create Meaningful Rewards
Your employees need a powerful incentive to engage with your safety program. While nobody wants to get hurt, some employees might want to take shortcuts if it means higher pay or getting off work early—you need rewards that compete with those temptations.
Rewards could include:
- Additional time off
- Career development opportunities
- Special recognition
- Educational reimbursements
Consider surveying your employees and asking what types of rewards and recognition would be meaningful to them. If it's not compelling enough, they might slip back into bad habits that lead to more convincing dividends.
3. Encourage Employee Involvement
Your employees won't participate in your safety incentive program if they don't know it exists. Make it a part of your regular conversations, and encourage management to bring it up during one-on-one and team meetings.
Regularly share safety statistics, and talk with your staff about how you can improve the program and protocols. You might find out that there's been an increase in illnesses because you've run out of masks or gloves, or you may learn that a piece of machinery is malfunctioning and needs to be replaced.
Show that you care by listening and taking action immediately. When employees see that you prioritize their health and safety, they'll be more willing to engage in the conversation and commit to better decision-making.
Recognize and reward your safety achievers and advocates in public. Share their stories, and make their success a company-wide win.
4. Track Performance and Feedback Regularly
Establish mechanisms and procedures to track safety-related data and incidents. These could include incident reports, near-miss incidents, safety compliance rates, and training completion rates.
When you see something, speak up—don't wait a week or a quarter until your next meeting. Take action immediately to keep your employees safe.
5. Evaluate and Adapt Your Program
Your safety incentive program isn't set in stone—continue to evolve it to meet the needs and demands of your staff.
You might find that your rewards have become outdated or no longer compelling enough. In that case, you might want to refresh your program and reinvigorate employee excitement and engagement.
Types and Examples of Safety Incentives
We mentioned some meaningful rewards above, but let's dive into more detail. This is the foundation of your safety incentive program. Get this step right, and you'll set up the rest of your program for success.
There's no best type of safety incentive. Some employees might be motivated by a simple gift card, while others might only budge for public recognition or time off work. You'll need to talk to your employees and managers to find realistic rewards that meet your budget and work constraints.
Terryberry provides a range of safety awards that we've found to motivate employees to pursue better habits and behaviors at work. Here are a few incentives to consider:
- Custom Incentives and Awards: Gift your safety performers with custom jewelry, trophies, engraved awards, and presentation kits.
- Points: Let your employees accumulate points and spend them on the prizes they want.
- Reward Platform: Provide your employees with a unique selection of quality gifts for every lifestyle from leading brands.
- Social Recognition: Empower employees to recognize and appreciate each other with a peer-to-peer social feedback platform.
Other awards like paid time off and bonuses compel some employees, but they're a one-off reward. Incentives like the one above serve as an ongoing reminder. Every time your employee sits at their desk and sees their trophy or pops in awarded earbuds, they'll be reminded of the importance of workplace safety.
Best Practices for Implementing a Safety Recognition Program
All the nitty-gritty details will impact the effectiveness of your safety program. Follow these best practices to ensure you nail the creation and execution of your plan:
Set Realistic Goals
You want your employees to achieve safety goals. Set a few different bars for these standards. You might reward employees for simply completing their training and save bigger rewards for when they reach 180 days of zero incidents. Set milestones along the way so they don't lose sight of the goals (or the purpose of the safety program).
Customize the Program to Your Culture
Consider your employees' wants and needs when designing your program. They might care little about tangible rewards and just want time off or pay bonuses. Take this into account when you're drafting your plan.
Provide the Right Training and Resources
It's your responsibility to remove roadblocks and empower your employees to attain a safe work culture. Provide the right in-person training, workshops, and software to give them top-notch education and safety practices. Invest in high-quality safety gear and equipment to keep your employees safe.
Be Consistent and Fair
Playing favorites or not recognizing everyone can eliminate trust in your safety incentive program. Ensure that there's transparency and consistency with your rewards. Establish clear criteria for earning recognition or rewards, ensuring they are based on objective and measurable factors.
Promote Peer-to-Peer Recognition
Peer recognition creates a supportive and collaborative environment where employees actively acknowledge and appreciate each other's safety efforts. Your employees have each other's back and care about each other's well-being.
Implement tools for employee recognition, such as online platforms, team meetings, or dedicated communication channels.
Make Your Employees Part of the Process
Let your employees play a critical part in designing the safety program. Use employee surveys and anonymous forms to collect feedback and insights for everything from goal setting to rewards and safety protocols.
Celebrate Achievements and Milestones
Celebrating achievements is key to creating buy-in and engagement for your program. Go over the top when you reach core milestones, and publicize your successes in company emails and all-hands.
Common Challenges to Consider
Safety incentive programs help promote a culture of safety, but they also come with a few risks and challenges. Left unaddressed, your program might have unintended consequences that pose greater threats to your employees.
Here are a few challenges to consider and watch for as you develop your program:
Underreporting and Dishonesty
If your program solely relies on reducing the number of incident reports, employees and supervisors might lie about near-miss incidents or non-harmful accidents. Underreporting can create a dangerous atmosphere where failures don't get recognized and fixed, and this could lead to more injuries and illnesses.
Employees might not feel as motivated to participate if they feel like you're just implementing your program for compliance purposes. They also might question whether the rewards are worth the extra effort.
Overcoming this resistance requires transparent communication about the program's purpose, benefits, and long-term goals. Involve employees in the program's development and address their concerns to foster buy-in and active participation.
Measuring Program Effectiveness
Determining the program's direct impact on safety outcomes (such as accident reduction) can be complicated. Multiple factors influence safety performance, and it's hard to draw correlations and causations.
Consider using both quantitative and qualitative measures to gain a complete understanding of the program's impact. Talk to employees and find out their observations—do they feel like your safety program is making a difference, or are other factors influencing change?
Sustaining Long-Term Engagement
Building a culture of safety isn't an overnight project. It'll take initial buy-in and long-term engagement to catch on and become a core part of your business. Employees may lose interest over time, and new employees might need encouragement to adopt the protocols.
Periodically review and refresh your program by introducing new incentives, modifying recognition methods, and incorporating new safety protocols.
Launch Your Employee Safety Program With Terryberry
Ready to start building your safety incentive program? You don't have to do it all on your own—we can help. Partner with Terryberry to help you develop a holistic, inclusive program that rewards your employees for safer habits, behaviors, and performances.
We can help you build a tailor-made safety award program and get your employees and teams involved in the decision-making process with employee surveys, anonymous feedback, and private conversations.
Schedule a demo with one of our experts for a hands-on walkthrough of how Terryberry can power your employee safety program.