Recognition plays a significant role in achieving permanent employee behavior change. Traditionally, safety "incentive" programs have based rewards on all employees reaching a benchmark. When rewards are based on everyone succeeding, negative peer pressure can occur, resulting in injury hiding.

Proactive, prevention-oriented reward programs that focus on identifying desirable actions, behaviors and conditions and eliminating unsafe actions, behaviors and conditions effectively produce employee behavior change without the unwanted side-effect of injury hiding. Tangible rewards that are positive, regular and certain reinforce desirable behaviors and conditions, making them more likely to continue and even replace undesirable behaviors and conditions.

The Fear of Recognition Programs

There is a fear among safety managers that employee recognition programs create or encourage injury hiding. While it's true that a poorly designed program can lead to injury hiding, this is not a universal truth. As we explore the concepts and strategies behind safety recognition programs, it will become evident that a properly developed safety recognition program can have lasting behavioral change benefits without negative results, like injury hiding or nepotism.

Do Rewards Really Work?

In a three-year study conducted by the American Society of Safety Engineers that was published in Professional Safety magazine in 2004, 300 construction firms were tracked. One half of the companies refused to implement a safety reward recognition program for the reasons mentioned at the start of this article; the other 150 companies felt that they needed a safety recognition strategy.

At the end of the three-year study, the firms who chose to implement safety recognition programs had injury rates that were 50 percent lower than the firms who refused to try safety recognition programs.

There are numerous case studies that support these same findings, proving that these programs work. Before we consider some of these studies, let's explore the most common objections heard to safety reward and recognition programs and provide a response to each.

Most Popular Excuses for Not Using Reward Programs

1. "Why should I PAY people to be safe? It's part of their job! That's why they get a paycheck…"

There are several important reasons why a good safety recognition strategy is vital for a successful business. The first is raising worker's compensation costs.

Worker's compensation stacks the deck against the employer. Many employees abuse the system and fraud runs rampant.

Consider the damage that worker's comp claims can unleash against your company. The Stevedoring Company in the Southeast region of the U.S. reported $2.5 million in worker's comp costs and more than 100 Lost Time Injuries. This company only had 300 employees!

Consider the practices of unethical worker's comp lawyers who make presentations to labor unions in order to educate employees on how to milk the work comp system.

Finally, consider the lucrative side of worker's comp claims from the standpoint of an unscrupulous employee. Studies have suggested that workers can earn more income from worker's comp—tax-free no less--than working a job.

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