OSHA’s Evolving Position on Safety Incentive Programs – Part 3


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This is the third in a four-part series relating to OSHA’s evolving position on Safety Incentive Programs

As I mentioned in the first post, this relates to the clarification that OSHA issued in October of this year on its “Position on Workplace Safety Incentive Programs”.  Now that OSHA has more fully endorsed these programs it is helpful to review what a properly designed program looks like.

Here I want to focus on the word “tangible”, which is defined as “perceptible by touch, palpable, material, real, substantial, and solid.”  As they say, words matter, and so do senses.  The very fact that tangible things can be touched and felt is the first clue as to why using them makes programs more successful.

When motivating safe and healthy behavior it is highly-beneficial to reward people with something that can be handed to them like a printed point voucher or certificate.  This may not be practical to do all the time but, whenever possible, handing someone there recognition together with some kind words and the pat on the back is far more powerful, and far more likely to drive the change you seek.

Similarly, the awards themselves must be tangible.  I have seen a shift in recent years where the vast majority of safety manages now fully understand this point.  Cash is a terrible motivator, period.  It is perceived as compensation, quickly forgotten, and quite literally a waste of money.  This fact is equally true for “cash-like” things such as pre-paid cards, gas cards and gift cards.  The more similar to cash the award is, the less effective it is, and the more it should be avoided.  If that isn’t reason enough to avoid the practice, consider that OSHA has taken strong positions against using cash awards; they don’t like the practice, and neither should you. 

The most effective programs provide an award catalog that is filled with tangible brand name merchandise and travel awards because participants will forever remember where, how, and most importantly why, they received the TV, the golf club, the pocket book, or the fishing pole.  Those tangible awards produce an emotional response because they are “real” in a way that cash can never be, thereby motivating their future behavior and helping to build long-term muscle memory.

The next post in this series of four will address the last of my keys to success:

  • The need to reward both for performance and “above & beyond” behavior





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