Incentivizing Safety: Could Recognition Save Lives…or Have the Opposite Effect?

Guest Author: Mallory Dunbar, Learning Specialist, Greatness Magnified

image of a man on the ground holding his knee in pain, beside a stack of overturned boxes and an overturned ladderIn 2019, more than 900 workers died due to work-related causes in Canada, and workers’ compensation boards accepted a total of 271,806 claims of lost time due to injury.

These numbers are an improvement from the previous year, suggesting a step in the right direction, yet more needs to be done to decrease the number of incidents and injuries and promote a culture of safety across all organizations.

Safety incentive programs have been around for decades with the purpose of improving health and safety outcomes by rewarding and recognizing employees for safe behaviours or outcomes. Organizations have seen dramatic decreases in lost-time injury rates and health and safety incidents when done right. However, a poorly designed program can lead to unintended consequences when done wrong.

Rates-Based Safety Incentive Programs

image of a sign that reads Safety First, Days Since Last Accident and place holders for 3 numbersThere are two ways safety incentive programs are typically structured. The first is rate-based programs. Under this structure, employees are rewarded for meeting safety targets and goals. For example, if a department goes a month with no safety incidents, employees will receive a reward – gift cards, prizes, bonuses, etc.

It seems like a good idea, right? Companies reduce safety incidents; employees are rewarded. It’s a win-win.

That’s what many companies thought when they implemented these programs, however, once in effect, they saw several unintended consequences.

If employees know that a month with no safety incidents leads to a reward, they will be reluctant to come forward and report incidents as they don’t want to lose their opportunity for a reward. When rewards are team-based, employees might face peer pressure to hide injuries and lie about incidents to prevent the entire team from losing out on a reward.

What is designed to promote a safety-oriented culture ultimately can promote a cover-up culture where incidents and injuries are swept under the rug. Decreases in incidents aren’t because of an increase in safety behaviours, rather it’s due to incidents going unreported.

Behaviour-Based Safety Incentive Programs

image of a women walking down a set of portable stairs holding a box and a man on the ground directing her on how to do it properly The second type of safety incentive program is a behaviour-based program. These programs are designed to prevent accidents or injuries by encouraging and recognizing employees for safety-oriented behaviours. This can include things like reporting near misses or unsafe conditions, attending safety training or taking health and safety courses.

While a rates-based program focuses on reactive rewards, a behaviour-based program emphasizes proactive recognition. Safety-conscious behaviours are recognized and rewarded to promote a safety-focused culture.

Under this structure, employees are encouraged to be conscious of health and safety protocols and look for potential hazards in the workplace. Rather than fearing the consequences of reporting an incident, employees see it as a learning opportunity and a chance to find new processes and solutions to prevent future incidents.

When done right, safety incentive programs can effectively improve the safety culture in your workplace. If designed poorly, it can do the opposite.

We are not safety experts, nor could one article speak to the depth and breadth that such a critical organizational anchor requires. However, we hope you’ve seen how recognition done right can increase a culture of workplace safety, and that’s worth a second look.

Image of Craig Gauvreau under a spotlight, signifying that he is a health and safety rockstar deserving of a spotlight This week, we’re giving a big shout-out to someone who is a safety expert, Craig Gauvreau! Craig is a people-first, positive, motivational, humble, supportive and generous safety professional who personifies appreciation in everything he does. Connect with him. Your professional world (and personal too) will be better for it.

Join us next week, where we will share ideas on how to build recognition into your safety incentive programs to promote safety-focused culture.

Take a peek at these other posts with workplace safety and implementing new programs in mind:



“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Deb Rakonjac

Organizational Development, Purolator Inc.

"Sarah nailed it!  She worked with the planning group to learn about the organization, the audience, the desired key messages and integrated it seamlessly into her keynote. Her energy was contagious! We received rave reviews of this portion of our event and Sarah was able to speak to all members of our organization in a way that motivated them to recognize others everyday. Our executives were extraordinarily pleased and integrated FROGging into their recent board meeting. Purolator is grateful to Sarah for dropping the pebble and we continue to see the ripples from this session across the organization. Working with Tami was phenomenal and the supports were easy to integrate to ensure the session went well. Thanks to you both!!"
Douglas D Swift

President & CEO, Swiftco Inc.

"I have had the Sarah experience in numerous settings: As a keynote, around a table with several other business owners, one on one over coffee, chatting with others at a conference reception, dining with a small group of colleagues. No matter the setting you always get the same Sarah: engaging, attentive, interested, inspiring, motivational, genuine. And always with an infectious smile. Do yourself, your company, your association a favour. Get the Greatness Magnified (Sarah) experience. The payback is priceless."
Judy Kucharuk

Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
Shelley VanVeen

Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
Melissa Chaulk

Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

Some of the Great Organizations We Serve