OSHA: Stop Rewarding Worker Safety!
Are you one of the forward-thinking employers or managers who loves to give workers incentives rather than be forced to hand out punishment? OSHA may have some harsh words for you: Stop it!
As most of us in business already know, there are plenty of ways to tick off employees, and unfortunately many of those seem to come fairly naturally. It can be the proactive, positive reinforcement strategies that are more difficult to master, yet we know that motivation is a very powerful management tool.
Potential to Backfire
Here’s the problem: Occupational Safety and Health Administration Deputy Assistant Secretary Richard E. Fairfax issued a memo recently telling regional managers to be on the lookout for certain incentive programs that reward good workplace safety and health milestones.
These are very common and you may use them in your business. For example, a warehouse crew might be rewarded with $100 gift cards for going a year without any injuries. Seems harmless enough, right? Not to OSHA. The watchdog agency, according to Fairfax, believes that those kinds of health and safety incentive programs can motivate employees not to report injuries.
The scenario isn’t hard to imagine. The warehouse crew we mentioned above has gone more than 11 months without anyone having to be sent to the chiropractor for a back problem. They can almost smell the $100 gift card and in fact, many have spent the money already. Suddenly and unexpectedly Bob blows it and throws out his back. His coworkers tell him not to say anything because they’ll lose their promised gift cards.
This critical view of many health and safety incentive programs isn’t all OSHA’s fault. They were just reacting to a General Accounting Office report issued on the subject, which Congress had asked for. Fifteen workers were killed in a 2005 oil refinery explosion, which some believed was related to the fact that managers were financially rewarded for “good” workplace health and safety statistics.
OSHA inspectors who follow the guidance in the Fairfax memo will be looking for situations that have the potential to cause underreporting of health and safety incidents. The question is whether or not that includes any incentive program your company has in place. If you’re not immediately certain or fully confident about your program, it’s probably a good idea to get an assessment from an authority and make adjustments as deemed necessary.
What is Allowed
However, the news isn’t all negative. OSHA has outlined types of reward programs that businesses can use and some of these might be helpful.
For example, do you have trouble getting volunteers for your company safety committee? It’s perfectly okay, according to OSHA, to reward employees for participation in company programs like safety committees or special task forces assigned to help improve overall or departmental health and safety. The company could also reward good employee suggestions for improving health and safety.
Along with incentives like small cash awards, ideas like companywide dinners or picnics, T-shirts and positive mentions in company publications could be used to improve workplace health and safety.
Take a look at the OSHA memo in light of what your company does and see if you need to make some changes before the OSHA inspector comes around next time. And, as usual, document your new OSHA-friendly incentive program.
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