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Should Safety Incentive Programs Be Used to Help Prevent Work Injuries?

Many employers put safety incentive programs into place to try to prevent workplace injuries from occurring. These programs frequently work by offering a cash incentive or some other reward if a certain number of days pass without any workers experiencing an injury which necessitates time off from work. Often, an entire group is rewarded as long as no one in the group has to take time off. If even one worker sustains an injury and takes days off from work, no one in the group gets the incentive.

Safety News Alert reports one workers' compensation insurer is encouraging the use of these programs as part of a successful safety effort. The problem is, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has spoken out against the use of these programs multiple times in the past, including in both a 2012 memo and in a draft document.

OSHA believes these programs do nothing to actually make workplaces any safer. Instead, the programs actually have a detrimental impact because the incentives can create peer pressure to discourage a worker from reporting a workplace injury.  If OSHA's concerns are valid, it certainly raises doubts about the legitimacy of the motives of a workers' compensation insurer encouraging the use of safety programs which could result in fewer injuries being reported... and fewer claims made for the insurer to pay.

Should Safety Incentive Programs Be Used to Prevent Workplace Injuries?

The use of safety incentive programs which reward entire groups for no missed workdays would be effective at improving safety only if it was assumed workers were creating safety risks and that they would be incentivized to stop creating those risks as long as they were offered a cash reward. This assumption is not a logical one to make. The incentive for workers to create a safe work environment is to avoid anyone getting hurt- and protecting their own health should obviously be a stronger motivating factor than simply getting a cash bonus.

Instead of encouraging workers to be more careful about safety, OSHA believes the safety incentive programs instead create a situation where employees may feel they cannot be honest about when a work injury happens. If an employee gets hurt but his reporting the injury would result in everyone not getting a bonus, the worker may feel too guilty to be up front about reporting the injuries or his coworkers who stand to lose their bonus might pressure him not to report the injuries.

If an employee fails to report a work injury, he could experience substantial financial loss. Workers' compensation benefits are only available to those injured on-the-job who report their injuries in a timely manner. A delay or failure to report an injury could result in a claim for benefits being denied.  Workers need to ensure they alert their employer to injuries right away, regardless of any peer pressure to the contrary and regardless of any safety incentive programs which may be in effect.

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