Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Element 3: Involvement

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Introduction

It's difficult to have an effective safety and health program without developing a corporate safety culture that encourages genuine employee involvement. As we discovered in Module Two, employees are held accountable by the employer for three personal behaviors:

  1. complying with safety rules,
  2. reporting workplace injuries immediately, and
  3. reporting hazards.

We also learned that making safety suggestions and involvement in a safety committee or team are two very important behaviors that, although not mandated, should be strongly encouraged. It makes sense for the company to develop strategies that promote these employee behaviors.

This module will explore some of the effective strategies for increasing employee involvement in workplace safety. We'll primarily address effective recognition because, as we learned earlier, we do what we do to avoid negative consequences or obtain positive consequences. Recognition as a positive consequence can be quite effective in dramatically increasing daily involvement in safety.

Employee Involvement

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Let's see what Michael Topf (2000) has to say about employee involvement:

What does it look like?

Employee involvement means participation by employees at every level. When used as part of the term employee ownership, "employee" does not refer uniquely to line or hourly workers, but to everyone involved in the organization at every level and in every department.

What does it require?

For any safety, health and environmental improvement process to be self-sustaining and successful, it needs to become a seamless part of the organization. This is doubly true if the desired end result is employee ownership. To that end, the process and its benefits must be seen as having value for the employees, their families and others in the company.

Reference: Why Employee Involvement May Not Be Enough. Topf, Michael D. Occupational Hazards. May 2000, Vol. 62 Issue 5, p41. 2p. 1

Successful Recognition Programs

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It's important to understand that administering "programs" is basically a management function requiring effective organizational skill. Many companies develop and implement formal safety recognition programs because, well, that's what they've been told works best and that's what everyone else does. There are many different types of safety recognition program strategies 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, the recognition program must fit the unique culture of the organization.

For instance, you can't work a highly participative safety recognition program successfully in an oppressively authoritarian corporate culture. It just won't work. On the other hand, a world-class safety culture may not develop a managed safety recognition program with formal procedures. Rather, managers will likely perceive the process of recognition as their opportunity to demonstrate leadership so that ultimately, positive working relationships are established or reinforced.

OSHAcademy Student Feedback: I set up a new suggestion box at my last office. Employees were informed it was there to use for any suggestions they may have. I would check it once a day and they could either sign their suggestion or not. All suggestions would be looked into and [the] person making the suggestion would be advised of the outcome within (5) days or, if the suggestion was unsigned, the outcome would be announced at our next safety meeting.

Because of the feeling it was all a big joke anyway and no one really cared, only one person in 12 months made a suggestion. I handled it just as I said I would. If the employee's suggestion was such that I could fix it without getting approval, I did so. Didn't seem to encourage others. The real problem was they had heard it all before and just didn't believe anymore.

You will find that safety recognition programs work best when they exist within a framework of strong leadership. However, if your company does not currently have a formal safety recognition program, it doesn't necessarily mean safety incentives and recognition are not in place and being used effectively. It just means a formal program has not been established. In the best case scenario where there is the presence of strong, tough-caring 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.

So, in evaluating your organization for the need for incentives and recognition, take a good look at the current quality of leadership. If you believe safety leadership could be improved, it's probably a good idea to think about introducing and implementing some of the ideas presented in this module to your safety committee or safety director so that your company may implement an effective recognition program that can also act as a catalyst to help move the corporate culture towards strong safety leadership.

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Recognition and Rewards

Safety 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. On the other hand, intrinsic rewards are intangible, internal, and housed within us. See 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 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.

Effective Recognition - Simple and Sincere

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When designing safety recognition programs, it's important to remember it's not the tangible "thing" awarded to the recipient that determines the effectiveness of the recognition. The secret to truly effective recognition is to:

  • identify the appropriate behavior so the recipient knows specifically why they are being rewarded, and
  • show appreciation in the right way so the recipient feels appreciated.

For more information on effective check out Steve Geigle's Rules for Radical Recognition.

You Get What You Give

The old adage, "you get what you give," certainly applies when it comes to recognizing employees.

  • If you're sincere in your appreciation for a job well done, your heart-felt sincerity will come across in the tone of your voice and through body language. Your sincerity will be felt and will result in a heart-felt expression of appreciation from the recipient. The recipient will know you mean it and will feel appreciated. The recognition will achieve the desired effect with lasting positive results - mission accomplished!
  • If you're not sincere when you express appreciation, the recipient will know it, and you'll not likely receive a sincere appreciative response or improvement in future performance. Hence, the act of recognizing will not have the desired effect: in fact, if the recipient thinks the recognition is not sincere, the recognition may be counterproductive in terms of morale and performance - mission failure!

Check out this short audio clip by Steve Geigle discussing the difference between policy-driven and heart-driven recognition.

Reactive Safety Incentive Programs

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In Module One, we learned about the concepts reactive and proactive safety programs. Safety incentive programs can be both reactive and/or proactive, depending on the behaviors that are being recognized and rewarded.

Believe it or not, most companies unknowingly implement reactive safety incentive programs that reward inappropriate behavior. What might this most common behavior be? Read on.

Withholding Injury Reports

That's right! Look for a banner or a sign that says, "80,000 bazillion work hours without a reported accident!" When you see that, you'll know the company is rewarding its employees for withholding injury reports. Sure, they might have 80,000 hours without a reported accident, but that doesn't mean the workplace is accident free: only that accidents are not being reported. In reality, the workplace may be full of the "walking wounded" who don't report an injury or illness.

The problem occurs when employees do not report their injuries because they want to be thought of as loyal team players. They do not want to ruin the safety record for their department. In some instances, the peer pressure is so great they will not report an injury until the pain becomes so severe that 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 to the accident costs. In such cases, everybody loses.

In reactive safety programs, withholding injury reports is rewarded.

Of course, the employer is not intending to encourage or promote "not reporting," but, because the inherent strategy of the program is flawed, it functions unintentionally to do just that. The employer believes he or she is doing the right thing by having a recognition program, but the result is that doing so hurts the safety and health program rather than helps it. So, let's see how we can improve the incentive program so that it's truly effective.

Proactive Safety Recognition Programs

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Companies are discovering the most effective safety recognition programs are primarily proactive. Proactive recognition programs reward employee behaviors that are both:

  1. mandated by the employer and/or OSHA regulations, and
  2. encouraged but not required.

While reactive safety programs and resulting behaviors only help to minimize the impact of accidents that have already occurred, proactive programs and behaviors help to prevent future accidents. These behaviors represent highly professional behavior that should also be recognized, and when justified, rewarded. Take a look at examples of proactive behaviors below:

For managers:

  • Supervisors personally conduct regular safety inspections.
  • The employer disciplines unsafe behavior when justified.

For employees:

  • Employees comply with company and OSHA safety rules;
  • Employees inspect fall protection before use.

For all:

  • Everyone makes safety suggestions.
  • Management and employees participate in safety (committees, teams, events, etc).
Proactive safety prevents future accidents.

When employees are recognized and rewarded for these behaviors, their overall involvement in safety and health increases greatly. They become more aware, interested, and involved in uncovering unsafe work conditions, unsafe practices, and system weaknesses. They know that reporting hazards as soon as they occur reduces lost work time and accident costs.

Proactive Recognition Programs That Work

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There are many safety incentive programs: some work and some don't. Here's a short list of proven successful safety incentive programs that you can implement in your company:

  • Safety Bucks: Supervisors carry safety bucks, and when they see someone doing something right, they reward them. The employee can take the safety buck to the company cafeteria for lunch, or they can use it at a local participating store to purchase items.
  • Bonus Programs: When an employee identifies a hazard in the workplace that could cause serious physical harm or a fatality, they are rewarded with a bonus check. In some cases the bonus check is a fixed amount. In other programs the bonus check is a small percentage of the potential direct cost for the accident that might have occurred.
  • Safety Heros: After an extended period of time, employees are rewarded with a certificate or bonus check for complying with company safety rules.
  • Reporting hazards, incidents and injuries: Wait a minute: do I mean that employees should be recognized for reporting injuries? That's right. If employees report injuries immediately, they not only minimize the physical/psychological impact of the injury on themselves, they reduce the direct/indirect accident costs to the company. Both the individual and the company win if the employee reports injuries immediately.

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.

Check out this short audio clip by Dan Clark of the theSafetyBrief.com that discusses six ways to encourage incident reporting, and improve safety.

Video

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.

Instructions

Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. Mugs, jackets, safety bucks, pizza parties, certificates, and bonuses are all examples of:

2. Which of the following is a behavior typically rewarded in a reactive safety incentive program?

3. To be successful, the recognition program must:

4. All of the following are behaviors mandated by OSHA law except:

5. Which of the following is not a proactive behavior that helps prevent or minimize the negative impact of injuries and illnesses in the workplace?


Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.