How Recognition Makes Work Safer: 5 Tips from Canada’s Safety Diva Lee-Anne Lyon-Bartley

image of a hard hat, gloves, mask and a first aid kit to create safety in the workplaceHave you ever thought about how your recognition program contributes to workplace health and safety? We often don’t see the two as being connected. Why? So many reasons – from different departments managing different programs to OH&S sometimes being very tactical to a widespread misunderstanding that rewards are not the same as recognition (they’re related but not one and the same) – and more.

We have so much we can do to make workplaces safer by recognizing what we want to see more of and creating a collective celebration of blockbuster safety results through rewards programs, team celebrations and corporate communications. It’s both/and; rewards and recognition.

There is a reason why but “rewards and recognition” is one of the 13 factors of psychological health and safety in the workplace. Recognition – the relational appreciation that fuels intrinsic motivation – plays a crucial role in creating and sustaining a safety-focused workplace culture; rewards – the transactional acknowledgement that fuels extrinsic motivation – alone won’t create sustained behaviour change. Both are important.

Sarah McVanel's Expert Interview with Canada’s Safety Diva, Lee-Anne Lyon-BartleyI spoke with Canada’s Safety Diva, Lee-Anne Lyon-Bartley, about how to incorporate recognition into your culture to improve workplace health, safety and overall wellbeing.

As we approach the International Day of Mourning (April 28th), we thought it would be an important time to share some tips on leveraging recognition to fuel your workplace safety culture. Safety, like recognition, is everyone’s responsibility.

Tip 1: Pair Desired Behaviours with Recognition Efforts

Recognition is a great way to help reinforce the behaviours we want to see more of. Often, recognition efforts are done simply because “We’ve always done it that way” or “It’s tradition.” Lee-Anne mentioned how early on in her career, her workplace asked her to order 3-in-1 winter jackets to be handed out to employees as a “safety gift.” When she asked what the purpose of the gift was, there was no solid answer. A yearly gift to thank your staff for being safe during the year doesn’t tell them what specific safety behaviours are valued and recognized. Nor does it send the message that your company values workplace safety. If your recognition efforts don’t serve a purpose beyond tradition, it might be time to let them go or realign them to their original intention that may have gotten lost along the way.

Tip 2: Magnify Micro-Moments

It’s the intentional micro-moments of appreciation that truly fuel workplace safety. Recognition efforts should be specific. They should be given frequently. People should be acknowledged for their safety efforts as soon as they’re made aware of it. If you want people to feel comfortable reporting unsafe working conditions, every so often, thank them when they report. When early reporting is seen as invaluable to safe work, you will undoubtedly emphasize reinforcing the proactive reporting, rather than the outcome of “zero incidents” stealing the show. A sign of “181 days of no safety incidents” is excellent; however, celebrating the small necessary actions that got to that point is essential for zero incidents to continue. Lee-Anne shares that in her career, she’s learned you need to “let people know you value their efforts, thank them for being safety-conscious.” Take a step back and reevaluate your recognition efforts surrounding workplace health and safety and ask yourself if they are truly helping to promote a workplace culture that values safety. If the answer is no, scrap it and develop some new ideas that better align with your culture and promote the behaviours and values you want to see reflected in your team. (Reach out to us if you need extra help with this.)

Tip 3: Simple Trumps Splash

image of kudos cards that you can use to create safety in the workplaceRecognition does not have to be complicated. Remember – 95% of people said their preferred way to be recognized as a verbal thank you. There are a number of quick and easy ways to recognize your staff that are authentic and sincere. For example, Lee-Anne always has a stack of kudos cards on hand with images and phrases like “Thank you for working safely today or thank you for considering safety today.” She will send these out whenever she sees people demonstrate a safe choice or decision. This continual recognition reinforces how vital safety is to your workplace while also improving employee satisfaction.

Tip 4: Recognition as a Practice

Just like you want safety reporting to be a practice, it’s the same with recognition. The more you practice anything, the easier it becomes. Reinforce your commitment to safety by living a safety-oriented lifestyle. Lee-Anne makes recognizing safety a priority in her everyday life. Safety should be visible everywhere – where you dine, shop, workout, even at home; being a “Safety Diva” doesn’t end at work; it’s in all aspects of our lives, so Lee-Anne deliberately looks for safety behaviours everywhere. When she sees someone doing something positive for the environment, she FROGs them – Forever Recognize Others’ Greatness. By making people feel seen, heard and valued for their safety efforts, you reinforce the importance of safety while also contributing to their overall wellbeing.

Tip #5: Create a Sense of Community*

image of cartoon people around a globe with the word safety under to create safety in the workplaceWhen your workplace doesn’t feel like a community, staff are much less likely to speak up as they may feel excluded or like their voice doesn’t matter. When it comes to making a safer workplace, the last thing we want is for people to be afraid to speak up. We want people to know that their voice is important. We want people to come forward and report any unsafe working conditions. We want people to feel comfortable coming to their manager about any concerns. The best way to do that is by building a sense of community through recognition efforts. Start a peer-to-peer safety recognition movement. Encourage employees to FROG one another. Build relationships. Create an inclusive environment where people know they are valued. A workplace with open communication is a safer workplace.

Recognition has the power to transform cultures and build safer workplaces. The unfortunate reality is that Canada continues to see high numbers of workplace accidents and fatalities. Our part in creating awareness and improving that is by helping you see how recognition can help you be part of the solution every day through Lee-Anne’s wisdom. If something as easy as recognition can help address workplace safety, it is worth doing it.

If you’d like to get in touch with Lee-Anne, Canada’s Safety Diva, for speaking engagements or to continue the conversation about workplace health, safety and your role in it, feel free to reach out to her via LinkedIn, follow and contribute to the hashtag #TalkingHSEQTuesday, or email her at

You may want to learn more about Dexterra Group, a wonderful client and an amazing organization where Lee-Anne is the Executive Vice President of Health, Safety, Environment and Quality (HSEQ). When one of your senior team members is the head of HSEQ, that makes a statement, “we value HSEQ here.” They have a “Don’t walk by, take action now” mantra, espoused by their senior leadership team, other leaders and staff. A mantra is just words if everyone’s voice wasn’t valued; I call this the “every day and always” recognition intention. Check out their website and learn more about them here.

Here are a few more resources that you might find helpful for keeping your workplace safe:


P.S. Are you looking to make a difference in the lives of our front-line workers?
Learn how nurses and healthcare professionals can be part of the Nurses Week Resilience Reboot 2022.

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