Incentive Programs: Is It Time to Revisit Yours?

As a result of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) recently published rule on Electronic Reporting of OSHA Records, there is a renewed emphasis on workers’ rights to report workplace injuries and illnesses freely and without retaliation.

The final rule amends OSHA's recordkeeping regulation to update requirements on how employers inform employees to report work-related injuries and illnesses to their employer. The final rule also requires employers to inform employees of their right to report work-related injuries and illnesses free from retaliation, and clarifies the existing implicit requirement that an employer's procedure for reporting work-related injuries and illnesses must be reasonable and not deter or discourage employees from reporting.  It also incorporates the existing statutory prohibition on retaliating against employees for reporting work-related injuries or illnesses and amends OSHA's existing recordkeeping regulation to clarify the rights of employees and their representatives to access the injury and illness records.

Incentive programs, if improperly designed and executed, could be viewed as contrary to reasonable and impediment-free reporting. According to the Frequently Asked Questions on the OSHA Website:

"This rule does not prohibit incentive programs. However, employers must not create incentive programs that deter or discourage an employee from reporting an injury or illness. Incentive programs should encourage safe work practices and promote worker participation in safety-related activities."

On March 12, 2012, OSHA issued a memorandum to its regional administrators advising them to critically examine workplace incentive and discipline programs to see if they interfered with reporting of injuries and illnesses, and framed the issue as one of the whistleblower rights as well as compliance with Part 1904, Reporting and Recordkeeping Requirements.  Also known as the “Fairfax Memo,” this memorandum indicates that incentive programs:

"Might be well-intentioned efforts by employers to encourage their workers to use safe practices. However, there are better ways to encourage safe work practices, such as incentives that promote worker participation in safety-related activities, such as identifying hazards or participating in investigations of injuries, incidents or ‘near misses."

The memo references OSHA's VPP Guidance materials which point to a number of positive incentives, including providing t-shirts to workers serving on safety and health committees, offering modest rewards for suggesting ways to strengthen safety and health, or throwing a recognition party at the successful completion of company-wide safety and health training. 

More progressive employers and programs have been utilizing leading indicators as a means to recognize employees for desired safety behaviors.  Every company and/or facility tends to possess its own, unique safety culture, so there is no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to crafting your safety incentive program.  As a safety leader, you need to identify the behaviors and conditions needed to attain safety success based on your particular exposures and culture.  

Additional Resources

Category