There are many different types of safety recognition programs used and promoted these days. Of course, some are more effective than others, but there is certainly no "one-fits-all" program available today. To be successful, management must understand that effective recognition is a key leadership skill that helps to develop positive relationships. You can tell when recognition is effective when there is an increase in the frequency of desired behaviors, better quality, and higher levels of production and services.
A world-class safety culture, characterized by a high level of trust, may not need to develop a formal written safety recognition program. Rather, managers will likely perceive recognition as their opportunity to demonstrate leadership so that ultimately, positive working relationships are established or reinforced. In the best case scenario where there is the presence of strong safety leadership, a formal program may not be needed because leaders are regularly providing meaningful incentives and recognition informally, one-on-one to their employees.
The characteristics and related benefits of effective recognition include:
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Safety recognition and rewards come in many colors, flavors, and varieties. We are all motivated by primarily two types of rewards: extrinsic and intrinsic.
Extrinsic rewards are tangible and external. You can touch, eat, see, smell, or otherwise use them. Here are some examples:
Intrinsic rewards are intangible, internal, and originate within us. They are expressed through the positive recognition others give us and the positive thoughts think about ourselves. Here are some examples:
Now, consider this: Is it the tangible reward, itself, that changes behavior, or is it the underlying recognition - the intangible reward - you receive that matters most? Like many others, you probably think it's the recognition behind the reward that is most important, and we agree. We like to be recognized and appreciated for what we do by people who are important to us. It makes us feel valuable, important, and a part of a team: something bigger than ourselves.
When designing safety recognition programs, it's important to remember it's not the tangible "thing" awarded to the recipient that is truly important, it's the form of appreciation shown for the accomplishment achieved that determines the effectiveness of the recognition. The secret to truly effective recognition is to:
The old adage, "you get what you give," certainly applies when it comes to recognizing employees.
Check out this short audio clip from OSHAcademy's CEO, Steve Geigle. He discusses the difference between policy-driven and heart-driven recognition.
Safety recognition may be reactive, proactive, or both. The approach depends on the nature of the actions or behaviors that are being recognized. Let's take a look at both types of recognition.
Unfortunately, some companies recognize in a "reactive" way for behaviors and actions that occur after incidents and accidents. Reactive safety recognition programs are ineffective because they function only to minimize the negative impact of events that have already occurred. What is the most common inappropriate behavior in a reactive safety culture? Failing to report accidents.
That's right! "Failing to report" is a behavior as much as the act of reporting. Why do employees decide not to report an injury?
Look for a sign in the workplace that says something like, "300 accident-free days!" When you see a sign like this, the company may actually be rewarding its employees for withholding injury reports. Sure, they might have 300 days without a reported accident, but that does not necessarily mean they have been accident-free for 300 days: it may only mean they have gone that long without accidents being reported. In reality, some workplaces may be full of the "walking wounded" because employees don't report an injury or illness. So, why don't employees report accidents?
The problem occurs because employees don't think it's important or they may actually be afraid to report their injuries. Employees don't want spoil their department's safety record, especially if they are competing with other departments. In some instances, the peer pressure is so great that employees will not report an injury until it's obvious or the pain becomes so severe they miss work and must report it to their supervisor. Consequently, the actual number of injuries in the workplace may decline, but the severity of each injury increases, as do the associated accident costs. In such cases, everybody loses.
The most effective type of safety recognition is "proactive" because it rewards behaviors and actions that help to prevent injuries and illness because they occur before incidents and accidents occur. Proactive recognition rewards employee behaviors, such as reporting hazardous conditions, unsafe behaviors, near-miss incidents, and accidents.
Proactive recognition programs help to prevent future accidents. A very important policy in a proactive safety recognition program states that employees will always receive positive recognition for reporting near-misses, incidents, and accidents. They will never be reprimanded. Below are examples of proactive behaviors:
When managers, supervisors, and employees are recognized for these behaviors, their overall involvement in safety and health increases greatly. They become more aware, interested, and involved in uncovering unsafe work conditions, practices, and safety management system weaknesses. They also know that reporting hazards as soon as they occur reduces direct and indirect safety costs.
There are many safety recognition programs which offer incentives: some incentives work and some don't. Here's a short list of proven successful safety recognition programs with incentives that, if administered correctly, can work for the company:
These are just a sample of many ideas available. There are many other ways to recognize employees being used by companies across the country. Your recognition programs will also be more successful if you include safety achievements in employee performance appraisals. Call your local OSHA office to see if they know of companies in your area that have developed successful proactive safety recognition programs: use those companies as benchmarks.
Operant conditioning is the process by which a behavior becomes more or less likely to occur depending on its consequences. There are two consequences that can follow a behavior: Reinforcement and punishment.
Recognition may be a positive or negative consequence, depending on the circumstances. So, let's first take a look at positive and negative reinforcement, and why positive reinforcement is best in producing a world-class safety culture. Next, we'll look at positive and negative punishment.
Positive reinforcement increases the frequency of desired behaviors through positive recognition and/or reward. Workers think that if they do something well, they will get recognized. Important criteria to remember about positive reinforcement include:
It's important to know that "desired" behaviors may not always be safe behaviors. Unfortunately, this may be true in safety cultures where it's more important to work fast than safe. Working fast, not safe, is management's top priority. This is especially true when the employer is under pressure to finish a project on time. Here are some examples that show how perceived positive reinforcement can increase both safe and unsafe behaviors:
Negative reinforcement, when effective, increases the frequency of desired behaviors by withholding perceived negative consequences. Workers think that if they do something the employer wants, they will avoid negative consequences. If managers want safe behaviors, negative reinforcement will be less effective because workers are generally only trying to do what is necessary just to "stay out of trouble". Important criteria of negative reinforcement include:
Once again, the outcome is dependent on the behaviors that the employer actually wants. Hopefully, the employer prioritizes safety, but that's not always the case. Here are some examples that show how perceived negative reinforcement can increase both safe and unsafe behaviors:
Positive punishment occurs when a worker's behavior or performance results in a perceived negative consequence that serves to decrease the probability of that behavior in the future.
For instance, a supervisor might yell at a worker who is violating safety rules. If the worker stops violating safety, the supervisor ceases yelling. The supervisor's yelling serves as a positive punishment because the supervisor adds an unpleasant response in the form of yelling.
Negative punishment occurs when a worker's behavior or performance results in the removal a perceived positive consequence. Removal of the consequence decreases the probability of that behavior in the future. For instance, the supervisor withholds positive recognition if workers do not achieve certain standards of behavior or performance.
Both positive reinforcement and negative punishment occur in safety recognition programs that reward one employee for being first, best, or most improved. At the same time the one winner receives positive reinforcement, everyone else receives negative punishment because they are, in fact, losers. Everyone else may have performed quite well, but since they were not the best, positive recognition is withheld. The result is one winner and many losers.
Recognition programs that reward only the best performer can actually demotivate most workers. This form of negative punishment is one of the primarily reasons safety recognition programs do not work. Recognition programs should be criterion-based that recognize everyone who meet the criteria for recognition. The goal is to have many winners who all meet or exceed management expectations.
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Take a look at this great video produced by MADtv that illustrates in a humorous way why the "days without an injury" recognition strategy does not work. What are employees actually being rewarded for? Not reporting injuries.Next Module