How do I create a successful safety incentive program?

By: Ed Zalewski

Publication: Employee Safety Management Today

Date Posted: 06/01/2020

The potential options for safety incentive programs are nearly endless. A company can put as much money as it wants into the program, but more budget doesn’t necessarily make a better program. They key is driving the correct goal, and only you can decide which factor is most critical. But how should you design a program that drives toward your goal?

The following discussion of typical programs should provide guidelines to help you evaluate similar programs.

Rate-based Incentive programs

A rate-based program focuses on achieving a numerical goal related to reducing injuries. These programs can be effective, but not if you focus only on the numbers. An effective program focuses on the processes applied to achieve the goal. To illustrate, employees may hide injuries if there’s a substantial reward for meeting a year-end goal. They’ll focus on the outcome rather than the process.

The question, then, is where to place the focus to achieve the desired numbers. This depends on your particular hazards. The process might involve encouraging PPE use when required, using the handrail on stairways, or other items. If your program successfully drives safer behaviors, the numbers should improve along with the behaviors.

One potential negative is that rate-based programs are sometimes set up as “all or nothing.” Either employees make the numbers and get a reward, or they fail and get nothing. Even if they’ve made improvements, their efforts won’t be recognized.

One option for addressing this is using tiered rewards. For example, if the company’s DART rate is 3.7 and the goal is 3.0, employees might get a bonus of $50 for each tenth of a point drop. That way, they get a partial bonus for the improvement.

At some point, a rate-based program will have taken you as far as it can, when further improvement is tough. Incentive plans should drive continual improvement, so if the program becomes stagnant, it’s time to start something new.

However, if you haven’t done a rate-based program for several years, adding it back to the rotation could help refocus employees, even if they’re almost guaranteed to “make the numbers.” Goals should be achievable, after all.

Hazard reporting program

Encouraging employees to report hazards and near-misses is a great way to get them more involved in (and thinking about) safety. All those extra sets of eyes watching for problems should help reduce injuries and maintain compliance. The goals are to get employees watching out for each other as well as themselves, and to show that the company will quickly correct any hazards.

A hazard reporting program should be implemented shortly after training employees on hazard recognition. Make sure that employees report hazards that they corrected, like straightening out a rumpled carpet to remove a tripping hazard. The rewards could be immediate (like a gift card given to the employee upon making a report) or could be monthly based on the number of reports.

While immediate rewards are usually preferable, one drawback of this program is that different areas may have varying potential for hazards. For example, a machine operator might not have many hazards in his area, whereas a forklift driver (who moves around the facility) may have greater potential to spot problems and obtain rewards. Some employees may feel that they’re unable to participate, and simply give up.

An alternative is to use a “team” approach, where everyone shares the rewards. If two team members reported five hazards, everyone on the team might get a bonus for the “team effort” of reducing hazards.

Another option is to conduct management walkthroughs to look for hazards and use them as learning opportunities. Also, if the manager observes an employee doing something right (like cleaning spilled water) or notices that a potential problem did NOT happen again (a previously cluttered aisle has been kept clean), that could be recognized as well.

You should expect hazard reports to taper off as time goes by. If this program is successful, it will need to end after a year or so because fewer hazards exist.


Key to remember: Safety incentive programs should get employees more involved in safety and raise awareness by allowing them to share in the savings. You’ll likely need to change up the program each year to focus on a new initiative.

About the author
Ed Zalewski - EH&S Editor

Ed specializes in safety issues such as injury recordkeeping, walking-working surfaces, and forklifts. He is responsible for researching regulatory activity and issues facing EHS professionals in order to develop and update content for J. J. Keller’s EHS products.

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