Incentives and Safety Programs – A Match Made in Heaven?

5 min read

Incentives and Safety ProgramsToday more than ever businesses need to make sure they are putting a priority on their safety programs in order to get the best possible results. There are many reasons why facility managers are taking safety more seriously, including the fact that studies now confirm that workplace injuries are one of the most costly problems in the manufacturing industry. Of course, improving safety is also important for keeping employees, equipment and inventory safe, which is essential for running a profitable company.

There are many things that companies can do to help improve safety. Looking at all the different options is a good way to decide which efforts will have the best results. For many facilities, incentives and safety programs go hand in hand. They feel that using incentives to encourage safety improvements is a great way to get the desired results, while also improving overall morale. Other experts, however, believe that using incentives to promote safety can actually cause more problems. Looking at all the pros and cons of using incentives and safety programs together is a great way for any facility to make a more educated decision.

The Benefits of Incentives

According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management reference guide regarding incentives,

Incentives and employee recognition are effective elements of hiring and retaining agency Talent. This means providing incentives to and recognition of employees for their performance and acknowledging their contributions to the agency’s mission.

Incentives and Employee Recognition by U.S. Office of Personnel Management

The following are some of the benefits that companies can enjoy by using incentives to help encourage improved overall safety. Look at them closely and see which ones your facility might benefit from if you implement great incentives for your safety programs.

  • Instant Motivation – When you offer employees some sort of incentive for a behavior, they are more likely to immediately change the way they do things. This is a much more rapid response than you would get from simply adjusting a policy or providing a training class, in most cases.
  • Measurable – When you use incentives for safety programs, it is easier to measure what types of results you’re getting. This is, at least in part, because you are forced to track what incentives you are giving out.
  • Employees Like Incentives – Most employees like the idea of incentives, because they will see a benefit for their hard work. For many, this is a more tangible way to get recognized for positive work.
  • Can be Effective Depending on what types of safety changes you are looking to encourage, it is possible to achieve those changes by using incentives. This is especially true if the thing you want changed is a fairly easy to observe behavior or activity.
  • Easy Implementation You can often set up and start an incentive program very quickly and easily. This makes it a great option for situations where you need to act fact and get some changes made to eliminate specific hazards.
  • Focuses Attention A good safety inventive program will focus the attention of management and employees alike on the biggest problems. Having everyone working toward improving one safety problem is a great way to get it solved permanently.
  • Easy to Adjust When you’ve got an incentive program in place, you can easily refocus the program to attempt to make other improvements in the overall safety of the facility.
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As you can see, incentive programs in manufacturing facilities can really bring a lot to the table. They are often a simple solution to a complex problem. They are especially beneficial when you are using them to solve a very specific safety concern that has been occurring for some time. By offering a tailor made incentive program, you can often get the results you’re looking for much more quickly than any other safety improvement option available. Incentives can also be something as simple as just adding light hearted humor into the workplace. A little bit a laughter can go a long way in improving an employees outlook and mood while on the job. For instance, consider posting a sign such as this.

The Problems of Incentives

Of course, incentives aren’t always considered the best possible way to improve a safety program. In fact, some people believe that incentives and safety programs should not go together at all. Look at these potential issues you could run into when combining incentives and safety programs before you decide if it is the right move for your facility.

  • Encourages Under Reporting When employees know that they will get some sort of incentive for having good safety statistics, they are much more likely to skip reporting accidents or injuries. While this might make the safety numbers look good, it doesn’t actually solve the problems that are present.
  • May Cause Conflict – Some employees might be upset if they don’t qualify for the incentive when others do. This is a big problem in situations where some of the safety measurements are subjective or difficult to directly observe. If a conflict does arise there are always resources available to help foster positive relationships while in the workplace. DVD’s such as this, can be an effective tool towards maintaining a hospitable work environment for all.
  • Can be Costly These types of incentive programs can be quite expensive if they aren’t managed properly. Many managers are surprised at just how many people will qualify for an incentive when it is offered. Keeping the program within budget isn’t always possible.
  • Must be Monitored – It is essential that the program is monitored closely to ensure employees aren’t cheating the system just to get the incentive.
  • More Effective Options In most cases, there are other options available for improving safety, and using incentives isn’t always the most effective choice. Some facilities are tempted to start an incentive program because they are easier to implement, but that doesn’t always mean they are the best choice.
  • Broadly Focused – In most cases the incentive programs related to safety are very broad in scope. Rather than offering an incentive for a specific improvement, they give general incentives based on the overall safety numbers. This can make the program confusing and aggravating for employees over time.
  • Loses Benefits Over Time – While incentive programs have been shown to be helpful at first, they often lose their effectiveness over time. People get used to having the program there, and they begin to expect to receive the incentive, even if they didn’t continue to improve. Over the long term, incentive programs are rarely effective for consistent behavior improvement.


These are just a few of the many different problems that can occur when you try to use incentive programs to solve safety problems. If they aren’t implemented perfectly, they will lead to resentment, fraudulent record keeping and many other big problems. They could even lead to a workplace environment that is less safe than it was in the beginning. While it might seem tempting to use incentives to solve safety problems, it isn’t always the right answer to the problem.

Are Incentives and Safety Programs right for you?

When looking through all the benefits and problems that can be associated with combining incentives and safety programs, it is important to really think the idea through. Despite what many people believe, there is no one right answer for every facility in the world. For some situations, using an incentive program might be the right choice. In others, the incentives will cause more problems than they fix.

The important thing is to figure out whether or not it is a good choice for your facility. Looking not only at whether or not the program will provide you with results, but asking if they are the best possible results. In addition, since these programs can be costly, asking whether or not the return on investment is sufficient. In some cases, these types of programs will be the best possible solution. In others, they should be avoided. When the facility manager and safety manager can work together to figure out how to make the necessary safety improvements, everyone will benefit.

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Antonio Ferraro

On behalf of Creative Safety Supply based in Portland, OR, I strive to provide helpful information to create safer and more efficient industrial work environments. My knowledge base focuses primarily on practices such as 5S, Six Sigma, Kaizen, and the Lean mindset. I believe in being proactive and that for positive change to happen, we must be willing to be transparent and actively seek out areas in need of improvement. An organized, safe, and well-planned work space leads to increased productivity, quality products and happier workplace. Connect with Antonio on Google+