Resources - Education, Training & Communications

Increasing Employee Involvement

This paper will explore some effective strategies for increasing employee involvement in workplace safety. Recognition as a positive consequence can be quite effective in dramatically increasing daily involvement in safety. Let's see what Michael Topf has to say about employee involvement:

What is Employee Involvement - Michael D. Topf

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 and health and environmental improvement process to become 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.

Michael D. Topf, President, The Topf Organization Occupational Hazards, May 2000

Recognition goes a long way!

A company cannot be successful in its safety and health effort without motivated employees. Motivation doesn't just happen. It's influenced by the nature of the consequences we receive as a result of our involvement. Motivated employees are willing to put forth greater effort to accomplish tasks or reach objectives. But what motivates employees? There are many theories, including Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Theory and Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory that display a common thread; consequences motivate behavior.

Successful recognition programs require smart management and strong leadership

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, they will likely perceive the process of recognition as management's opportunity to demonstrate leadership so that ultimately, positive working relationships are established or reinforced.

Note from Robert: 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. Also saying and idea worth writing is and idea worth taking credit for but signing was not necessary. All suggestions would be looked into and person making the suggestion would be advised of the out come within (5) days of the suggestion or if unsigned the out come 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. The employee's suggestion was such that I could fix it without getting an OK and I did so. Didn't seem to encourage others. The real problem was they had heard it all before and just didn't believe any more.

You will find that safety recognition programs work best when they are 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, then 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.

Recognition and rewards

Rewards are great...

Safety rewards come in a bazillion 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.

But, recognition is better...

Now, consider this. Is it the reward, itself, or the recognition you receive that matters most? Like many others, you probably think that the recognition behind the reward is most important. We like to be recognized and appreciated for what we do. It makes us feel that we are valuable, important, and a part of a team...something bigger than ourselves.

The big secret: It's not what you reward's what you reward

It's important, when designing safety recognition programs to remember that it's not the nature of the reward that is most important: the big secret is recognizing appropriate behavior.

Reactive safety incentive programs

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

They reward "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 not reporting their injuries. Sure, they might have 80,000 hours without a reported accident, but that doesn't mean the workplace is accident free: only that accidents aren't 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, in an effort to be team players and loyal co-workers, or as a result of negative peer pressure, do not report their injuries. They do not want to ruin the safety record for their department. In some cases the 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, and becomes much more costly. In such cases, everybody loses.

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 is doing the right having a recognition program...but the employer is doing it wrong...consequently the result actually functions to hurt the safety and health program rather than help it.

This unfortunate situation can be seen most easily when "not reporting" is the only behavior rewarded. If appropriate behaviors are also being recognized and rewarded, the negative impact of this reward strategy is diminished. So, let's take a look at what those appropriate behaviors are.

Proactive safety recognition programs

More and more companies are discovering that 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. All these behaviors actually prevent or minimize the negative impact of injuries and illnesses in the workplace. These are what we consider appropriate employee behaviors in safety and health:

For management:
  • Providing the resources for a safe and healthful workplace.
  • Providing effective safety education and training.
  • Providing effective safety supervision - oversight.
  • Providing and maintaining a culture of tough-caring accountability.
For employees:
  • Complying with company and OSHA safety rules;
  • Reporting injuries immediately;
  • Reporting hazards.
For all:
  • Making safety suggestions.
  • Involvement in safety (committees, teams, events, etc).

Those behaviors listed for management and employees are mandated by OSHA regulations. Making suggestions and involvement are not mandated, but should be strongly encouraged. All of these behaviors represent highly professional behavior that should also be recognized, and when justified, rewarded.

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 injuries as soon as they occur reduces lost work time and accident costs. It minimizes hurt (pain) for the employee...and hurt (monetary loss) for the employer.

Integrate the safety recognition program

We come full-circle back to our main point. Recognition is actually more a function of leadership than management. A company that delegates safety recognition responsibilities to a safety director or a safety committee sets up a system that relies on only a few people to provide leadership. Of course, it also sends the message that safety is not a line responsibility, but a staff duty. On the other hand, an organization that places responsibility squarely on the heads of managers, supervisor, and employees for recognizing professional safety behaviors, provides everyone with opportunities to display leadership.

Proactive recognition programs that work

Here are a few ideas for developing a proactive safety recognition program for your company

  • Safety Buck: 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 Program: 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. By the way, the average direct cost for a disabling claim is around $10,000. Doesn't it make sense to reward an individual with $100 for identifying a hazard that could potentially cost the company thousands?
  • Safety Hero: After an extended period of time, employees are rewarded with a certificate or bonus check for complying with company safety rules.
  • Reporting Injuries: Wait a minute...Do I really 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 wins 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. Call you 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.

Source: Steven J. Geigle, CSHM

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Copyright ©2000-2019 Geigle Safety Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Federal copyright prohibits unauthorized reproduction by any means without permission. Disclaimer: This material is for training purposes only to inform the reader of occupational safety and health best practices and general compliance requirement and is not a substitute for provisions of the OSH Act of 1970 or any governmental regulatory agency. CertiSafety is a division of Geigle Safety Group, Inc., and is not connected or affiliated with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).