It’s important that each workplace have safety guidelines and policies. And one of those policies should be an incentive program that rewards workers for safe practices and behaviors on the job. There are a couple different types of these safety incentive programs which go about striving for the goal of worker safety in different ways. Many workplaces do have these incentive programs. But many of them might actually be causing more harm than good.
There’s a new report out from the Government Accounting Office (GAO), and it is asking OSHA to make changes as a result of recent research into these safety incentive programs. The GAO report raises serious concerns about the effect that workplace safety incentive programs have on the reporting of accidents and injuries in the workplace.
The GAO report compared two different types of incentive programs; one type which rewards workers for low rates of reported injuries and illnesses (rate-based), the other which have programs that reward workers for doing certain things like recommending safety improvements (behavior-based). And what the GAO found is probably not all that surprising. The rate-based programs might discourage workers from reporting injuries and illnesses. It’s not that the problems aren’t happening, it’s just that they’re not being reported. And that’s not good for anyone’s safety. Currently, the field operations manual that OSHA inspectors use makes no mention of this, but the GAO report is calling for that to change.
As a result of these findings, the GAO report recommends that the issues addressed should be added to the OSHA field operations manual that inspectors use. The GAO report recommends that OSHA begin implementing new criteria for safety incentive programs and workplace safety policies. This goes for all OSHA cooperative programs, such as the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) and Safety & Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP). The GAO report says this new criteria must be consistent with the most recent VPP guidance memorandum, a memorandum that says if an employer has a safety incentive program which focus on injury and illness rates, that employer will be prohibited from participating in the program.
Here’s an excerpt from the GAO report which discusses this issue: “To help OSHA inspectors educate employers about the importance of safety culture, the Secretary of Labor should direct OSHA to add language about key elements of a positive safety culture -- and the potential effect of different types of safety incentive programs and other workplace safety policies -- to its field operations manual.”
In other words, the government is asking OSHA to give its inspectors some new directions. The government wants these inspectors to be trained to discourage employers from using rate-based safety incentive programs. Oftentimes, these programs don’t lead to less incidents of injury or illness, they just lead to fewer instances of those incidents being reported. So in essence, they lead to a more dangerous place instead of a safer one. With these new guidelines, OSHA inspectors can better equip and educate employers, so that the employers can make the necessary changes to provide safer working conditions.