Are Safety Incentives OK?

Employers are often in one of two camps when it comes to safety incentives:

  1. Safety is a condition of employment. You are paid to perform your job well and stay injury-free. Your pay is your incentive to stay safe and if you can’t this is not the place for you to work.
  2. Safe behavior needs to be rewarded. None of us wants to get hurt but to perform at a level expected by the employer requires additional effort.  Recognizing that effort reinforces desired good behavior.

Several years ago OSHA came out with a broadcast caution to all employers directing them to be cautious about how they use safety incentives to drive safety performance goals.
The concern was that when the reward was too great, injuries would be swept under the rug for fear of losing-out on the reward.  And when the reward was, let’s say a nice 4-wheel ATV, the work environment can even become threatening to make sure injuries are not reported.

Safety, like nearly everything else in life, fits a bell shaped curve.  The upper ten percent only need to be told once and they do what is asked.  Nearly eighty percent need some nudging, or incentives, to get their behavior going in the right direction.  The bottom ten percent will likely never get it.  They operate within their own set of risk values and expectations and often their employment is terminated.

Studies have also shown that if behavior is to be changed we (humans) respond more favorably to positive incentives (rewards) rather than negative consequence.  Back-end monetary bonuses based on profitability are nice.  But you would be surprised at how far a “thank you for wearing your safety glasses” goes to promote desirable behavior.  If you feel compelled to use safety incentives to reward for effort consider simple spot recognition for good safety behaviors. Small gift cards for lunches are a good option, but be very cautious about safety incentives or reward programs that may have unintended consequences like creating an incentive to hide injuries from the employer.

Hilmerson Safety Services, Inc. has been helping clients with OSHA compliance for 15 years, and we can help with all of your safety compliance needs.  If you have specific questions about the pros and cons of safety incentives contact us at (952) 239-0125 or email