Are cash-based safety incentives jeopardizing the lives of warehouse workers?

Category: Workplace Safety

We’ve all seen the occasional classified ad that looks something like this:

‘Warehouse worker wanted. Bonus pay for achieving safety milestones.’

Candidates who are new to a warehouse environment envision a place where everyone will be as safe as possible. After all, you’ll make more money that way, right? Unfortunately, there are unintended consequences to those monetary incentives. As an article on entitled “The Truth About Safety Incentives” points out, monetary incentives and under-reporting are directly linked. Everyone wants to keep the bonus money flowing, so mum’s the word on safety incidents.

As if that’s not reason enough to consider an alternate approach to cash-based job safety programs, there’s a memorandum from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that will get your attention. It reads in part, “If the incentive is great enough that its loss dissuades reasonable workers from reporting injuries, the program would result in the employer’s failure to record injuries that it is required to record…”

So, if monetary-based job safety programs are flawed (and potentially leave your company open to OSHA violations), then what is the answer?

Perhaps we need to address the following question first: Why would your employees want to stay safe? It sounds like a silly thing to ask. (After all, who wants to be injured?) But there are some important psychological considerations at play here. And the answer isn’t so straightforward.

The overwhelming finding may be that most employees want to stay safe because other people (i.e., loved ones) rely on them. In fact, there are whole safety training seminars dedicated to this type of safety awareness tactic, such as Dake Lesinksi’s ‘4 The Right Reasons’ job safety program.

The trick is getting each employee to be aware of those reasons for being safe and to be able to recall those same reasons at a moment’s notice. That way, each time workers make a decision about the proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or following lock-out, tag-out procedures, they’re doing so with a strong emotional connection to safety and workplace accident prevention.

So what’s the easiest way to engage workers and help them retain those kinds of emotion-based messages? It’s a lot easier if you keep it visual. But it’s not about posting warning signs. Real safety engagement occurs when visual messaging goes beyond static messaging telling workers ‘Don’t do this.’

Instead, it’s more about getting workers involved and invested in the safety messaging—and keeping it positive. Here are a few examples that are often displayed on electronic safety message boards, also known as workplace digital signage—an easy way to deliver visual communications.

Why they’re being safe: Ask your safety advocates to submit photos of their loved ones under the header of ‘Why I stay safe.’ Camera shy employees can contribute a simple sentence as well. Post these kinds of messages on a regular basis. It’s important that everyone understands that safety affects many people, not just the person making the decision to be safe or unsafe.

Safety training summaries: You spend considerable resources and time on safety training. But if you can’t summarize some of the basics or major safety themes into concise PowerPoint-like slides, there may be a bigger problem at hand. Companies that succeed with safety are able to distill reminders into easy-to-understand visuals, often with matching slogans and helpful acronyms. Those are messages that beg to be displayed in regular fashion on vibrant, easy-to-update workplace digital signage.

Make it fun: Post a photo of a staged safety issue at your facility. (Be sure to take the photo when there’s no real danger of causing accident or injury.) Ask employees to identify the hazard. This engages everyone just like any puzzle would, especially if the hazard isn’t always clear right away. Follow up with an answer (either posted to the same digital message board or discussed at a shift-change meeting). Take it a step further: Highlight what might happen to your specific facility if that hazard went uncorrected.

Tools like workplace digital signage can make job safety programs easier to reinforce. But to achieve ongoing engagement, you do need to fill it with content on a regular basis so it stays fresh. Some digital signage platforms help by providing safety-specific content that can also tap into emotional reasons for staying safe. These kinds of services can supplement your site-specific safety messaging.

However you choose to address and reinforce job safety programs at your facility, just make sure you’re encouraging everyone to participate for all the right reasons. It starts with communication, and it’s a conversation that should be brimming with newness, excitement, and emotion.

If you need help getting started, contact The Marlin Communication for a free communications assessment and demonstration created specifically for your safety awareness needs.

Sean Donnelly
October 28, 2016

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