By Dan Davis, Editor-in-Chief
Anyone who has worked for a manufacturer with a safety program is probably in pos- session of a mug, hat, or jacket that commemorates some safety goal. In many instances,
the award is to mark a certain number of consecutive days worked without an injury that would warrant a report to the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA). On other occasions, the
trinkets might mark simple involvement in a safety
Because these types of incentives tied to safety
programs are commonplace in manufacturing,
you might think that they are the most important
aspects of forward-thinking safety awareness campaigns. That, apparently, isn’t the case.
John Dony is the director of the Campbell Institute, a part of the National Safety Council that runs
the annual Campbell Awards, which honor companies that have environmental, health, and safety
(EHS) programs that are thoroughly integrated into
organizational operations and result in high levels
of employee safety. In the eight years he has worked
with the awards program, Dony
has observed what organizations do to improve and sustain a safe work environment.
The FABRICATOR asked him his
thoughts on what role safety incentives play for these and other manufacturing companies.
The FABRICATOR: What roles do incentives play for
a manufacturer looking to bolster safety awareness? Are incentives necessary?
John Dony: It’s an interesting question. There are a
lot of takes on that.
There is always going to be a need to continue to
focus attention and to sustain an effort. So when
you start your journey from a safety perspective,
for a lot of organizations, that’s reactionary. It stems
from something happening and needing to deal
with the outcome of that. When you get to the other
end of the maturity spectrum, you tend to be more
proactive. You tend to be more interested in sustain-ing things that are already in place to prevent things
before they happen, to read the signals that are
coming around the bend.
Everyone, whether it’s a leader or an employee on
the shop floor, needs to have their attention refocused to sustain the effort that they are putting into
things. And you can do that any number of different
ways. That’s what communication and training are
all about. It’s to refocus our attention and to keep our
awareness there—to keep us motivated and moving.
Incentives play a similar role. The real crux of this
is not whether incentives are a necessary or non-necessary component; it’s what your intent in using
them for is and what outcome you are incentivizing.
It’s also being fully aware of all of the outcomes that
can come from that.
What I mean by that is that if you are incentivizing
the wrong thing or using the wrong kind of incen-
tive, then you are potentially going to create a nega-
tive outcome. Your original intent was to keep the
focus on safety and sustain that effort, but you may
have created a whole host of things that weren’t
your intent. Going into that kind of approach with-
out that knowledge is going to be really dangerous.
FAB: Can you provide an example?
Dony: Sure. If you are trying to drive down the number of people that are getting hurt on the job, one
relatively simple way of looking at that is that you
are trying to prevent a recordable injury from happening as defined by OSHA. What that potentially
leads to—while the intent there may be good—is
that we don’t want anyone to get hurt. What it could
lead to, however, for the manager or the supervisor
is a message of “We don’t want any recordable injuries.” That can then create a culture where in fact
you may end up incentivizing employees not to report when things happen as opposed to having a
more open reporting culture that leads you to find
the things that potentially could have a much more
harmful effect. This might be an oil slick that goes
unreported for a week, and then someone slips on it
and breaks their leg. If our goal is to prevent the person from breaking their leg, is incentivizing toward
zero recordable injuries really the right thing to do?
That’s probably the simplest potential negative
outcome. That’s something that can creep up on
you very quickly.
FAB: Some manufacturers want employees to
report more unsafe work conditions and incidents
with the hope of keeping everyone constantly
thinking of working safely. Can incentives help
this in a positive way?
Dony: They can. I would say that if you are supporting or encouraging reporting, that’s a very positive
thing in general. However, it could be a double-edged sword. A negative result could be that if a
company has a goal of a dozen reports per employee this year and achieving that goal results in an incentive, it could lead to a lot of low-quality reports.
You see a lot of people checking boxes. They see it
as paperwork that needs to get done, rather than a
really important exercise. Even incentivizing something positive can potentially lead to a lot of wheels
spinning and lot of time spent managing paper instead of managing problems.
FAB: Have you seen any difference between the
use of monetary and nonmonetary incentives in
trying to increase safety awareness in a manufacturing company?
Dony: Obviously, money is a powerful motivator,
but it is also a motivator that is too powerful in a lot
of ways. Considering potential negative outcomes,
it might not be right to go in that direction.
Typically for the high-performing organizations
within the Campbell Institute, the nonmonetary in-
centives are the ones that we see more often. That
could be as simple as stickers, coins, pizza parties,
lunches, or face time with leaders of organizations.
And it’s not about the token. It’s about what is be-
hind the token and how heartfelt that is. John Dony
Do safety incentives work?
THEY CAN, BUT AN EXPERT ON SAFE WORKING ENVIRONMENTS
SAYS A BROADER PERSPECTIVE IS NEEDED