Most people enjoy receiving incentives. Buy groceries at the store and pay lower gas prices at the pump through a rewards program. Stop smoking, start exercising, and watch your health care premiums drop. The question a lot of companies are asking, though, is can this same approach work to improve work site safety. And, if so, how do incentives work in an increasingly data-driven world?
If you manage a fleet, you know the traditional dilemma that lurks behind attempts to engage employees in safety: If you incentivize people to report accidents, the rest of your workforce may resent this person for "snitching." Incentivize people for the most accident-free days, and you may unwittingly encourage employees to hide injuries or accidents to win the reward.
The Right Incentives Can Work
There is an entire industry that advises companies on incentives and how best to excite and motivate team members to play an active role in improving safety. Most incentive consulting companies believe in a straightforward transaction: When employees do something to make the workplace safer, they win a prize. There is disagreement on whether that prize should be integrated into a point system or immediate cash in hand, but, there is agreement on the overall effectiveness of incentive programs. You just need to be thoughtful about the kind of incentive(s) you create.
OSHA, for instance, favors performance-based programs that reward employees for specific steps they take to make the workplace safer. That might mean suggesting a safer way to complete a workplace process or joining the company safety committee. It's the difference between encouraging people to take proactive versus reactive action.
With Data, Are Incentives Still Necessary?
Much of the data employers once had to collect from employees, they can now get from the machines and equipment employees operate. The new generation of vehicles are equipped with devices that allow the company to capture a vast array of data about operator behavior: Do they drive too fast or brake too hard? Do they pay attention to object detection system alerts, or are they constantly bumping into objects?
In this scenario, the employer's role is less to incentivize operators to drive safely and more to educate operators of what data the company is capturing and how it will be used. No one likes the feeling of Big Brother looking over their shoulder and it’s important for the team to understand the overall goals: Safer work sites and improved efficiency. With this in mind, it is imperative that the company makes sure operators know exactly what data is being collected, why it is being collected, and how the company will reward operators whose data shows they're behaving safely and efficiently.
No off-the-shelf Safety Programs
The most effective and dollar-smart safety programs these days have to be customized to your specific industry and workplace. And that customization depends on your understanding of your business, the people who work for you, and what it means for them to do their jobs safely. The goal should not be to get rid of incentives, but to implement them in a way that will result in the behavior changes you are after.
The major choice before you is not, "Should we reward people with gift cards or points?" Instead, it is to decide which behaviors help develop a safer work environment for your company. Determine which employees are typically asked to exhibit those behaviors, and ask them what kind of incentive would encourage them to act in the safest manner possible. If driving too fast around a corner is something you need your operators to avoid, work with them to create a program that will reward those who slow down.
Work with each team to develop safety plans that clearly spell out behaviors that will reward operators personally and your company as a whole. Make that plan known and easily accessible to all team members, and actively seek out their input on what the rewards for good behavior (or "good data") should be.
Start by Hiring the Right People
A safety plan is only as good as the people tasked with implementing it. Do your best to hire people who understand the value of workplace safety—who are, in essence, "safe" employees from day one. Once they're on board, make your safety program clear and accessible, periodically train and quiz your workforce on the program, and use a mutually agreed upon incentive that will support behavior changes that lead to a safer work environment.