to reward or not to reward

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  • To Reward or not to Reward

    Now thats the question, what is the answer?

    Mark Donnelly

    Catching fish to eat

    does not warrant a


    Are you telling me that

    feeding myself and not going

    hungry is the reward?

    Can I still

    have a gift?

  • 2 | P a g e

    Almost every company now has some form of reward system for the

    promotion/enforcement of safety. These programs seem to be mostly of a simplistic model;

    if you dont have an incident, then we will give you something in return. Visit most

    workplaces today and you will find the total number of days without lost time injury located

    on the corkboard for all to see; kind of like a friendly warning to all workers and visitors

    saying; dont DARE hurt yourself...we are near to the reward! You will even hear it at that

    weekly safety meetings; going well team, we are now at 100 days for no lost time injury (as

    if to think that this comment is going to make any difference to anyone who is going to

    unexpectedly hurt themselves).

    It should not matter how many incident free days one has, because everyday should

    have the same value applied to it; go home how you arrived. MD

    The other topic I feel is an issue with counting days that I have not read about (although I

    am sure it has been said somewhere) is that the more incident free days that are

    accumulated, the more protection of these days becomes the goal (higher the number the

    less reporting etc). This switch of goal then contributes more towards an unsafe

    environment. I have no research to back up my claim here, but I am sure if a study was

    done, there would be a sure sign of a higher value of protection applied, relative to the

    number of incident free days accumulated. I mean, many people would not be as concerned

    with having lost one day of incident free time within a few days of starting the count

    (project), compared to loosing 300 days of incident free time for the same event near the

    end of a project.

    Safety First or Numbers First - Warning AVOID ACCIDENTS!

  • 3 | P a g e

    Whilst this visible number is there to make one think about their actions is a semi-good idea

    as a way to manipulate ones potential risk taking mindset, (if one did have such a risk taking

    mindset), it is still an outcome-based reactive scheme. The typical one program fits all

    approach for rewarding those for a period of incident free time is reactive if no

    tractable/trending value has been attached to the whole process.

    Its reactive on the condition that if you do not have an injury, then you will get your

    reward. This simply implies to the worker to stay out of harms way with no guide on how to

    do it. To stay out of harms way is to not hurt yourself, to avoid the hazards. Up till now, I

    have not yet met a single person who goes to work wanting to hurt themselves. I could stay

    out of harms way for 3 years without reporting one hazard. I could stay out of harms way

    for 3 years not following any common procedure. I could stay out of harms way for 3 years

    just by being lucky. Does this warrant a reward knowing that that I have not followed any

    written procedure, that I have left many near misses and hazards not advertised; that will

    someday become active and cause an accident to myself or some other poor individual? No,

    I dont believe so.

  • 4 | P a g e

    Not reporting any level of event or hazard causes information to be hidden from the

    corrective action process, which can lead to risks that are not being dealt with

    appropriately. This type of negative behaviour needs to be measured. As I and many others

    keep saying, these hazards do not go away; they will hang around until activated, they are

    hazards in waiting and one day, your Swiss Cheese holes will shuffle around until all the

    holes line up. Murphys law might say that; this hazard arrives a day after the workers get

    their 365 day incident free award. Then you have to ask yourself, was the reward justified. If

    it was justified, how did you come to your conclusion? What if the award was for 366 days

    of incident free time, then the award in this case would not have been granted, because the

    accident happened on the last day.

    The goal of staying injury free is an innate safety incentive (be it of various levels) in all of us;

    its much the same as the debated Zero Harm topic. Its not proactive and its not reactive,

    its just a goal, just a carrot dangling on a string. The action (doing) of eliminating hazards

    and reporting near misses that could cause an incident is proactive; the goal is to not have

    an incident. And there I feel lays the difference. Do you finish a building by starting at the

    completion? No, you complete a building by putting all the bits together over time. Do you

    make a safe workplace by a number of incident free days? No, you make a safe workplace

    by following procedures and training, dealing with hazards and controlling risks as they

    come to light; hence, the result is an incident free period.

    You may have a goal to reach 365 days with no incidents, thats a great goal to have, but to

    ensure we are doing something that can reach that goal is the important part. If I want to

    lose 10kg, thats a great goal, but what I eat and how many calories I burn through my diet

    period will determine if I reach my goal or not, this is the important part. These

    measurements that I keep track of and write down along the way are to check my progress.

    If I dont reach my goal, I can look back at my diet and exercise program to see why I failed;

    hence my reward of losing 10kg has not been justified, I did not deserve it and I have to

    work harder to get it. If for some magical reason I still lost 10kg without doing anything

    (eating right, exercising), the reward is nothing special, it was just expected that I would get


  • 5 | P a g e

    The common issue of a safety reward program has been raised many times; the reward of a

    monetary or tangible gift in return for an expected incident free timeframe (the reward for

    not hurting yourself). These outcome-based incentive programs tend to cause under-

    reporting or even a non-reporting working culture, which obviously have negative long term

    results. Studies seem to confirm this, and I have seen it personally, and it does not matter

    what industry it is in either. People tend to focus on the reward rather than the process

    needed to stay injury free.

    With these types of outcome based reward programs being used, why do we still seem to

    see a typical rate of incidents occurring? If you think incidents are going down due to

    rewards and incentives, do a little research as to why this might be the case and you might

    just find that such topics as safer plant and return to work programs is the reason for the

    lowering of statistical data (thats a different topic). So safety award programs are taking

    money out of a company's revenue without a meaning or significant return on investment,

    because no-one in management puts any effort into asking; is the reward system actually

    working or is it just an expected process that all companies do these days as a way to look as

    though the company is being proactive?

    If a reward is given to those who know they truly believe they have

    earned it, then the reward is respected, i f on the other hand the reward is

    given to those who truly know they did not deserve it, th en the reward is

    not respected. MD

  • 6 | P a g e

    So, what could be a better way to implement a reward and recognition system for being

    safe that may have some merit to it?

    Organisations could start rewarding workers or workgroups for simply doing. Reward the

    workers for being proactive and for participating in identifying and dealing with potential

    losses. I would call this system accumulative system recognition. If we look at the things

    we do that make us and our workplace safe; finding hazards, doing audits, completing and

    using procedures, reporting safe and unsafe acts, then we could start to build a reward

    system based around these actions; the things we do.

    This type of incentive would actually involve the workers more in the success and

    development of the organisation. It would make the reward more tangible instead of just

    collecting the dividend at the end. If workers were more aware that their contributions

    (reporting hazards and developing procedures etc) made the organisation more successful,

    then they know that a better reward will be forthcoming. Now isnt that the same goal as

    the owners and shareholders, and why they work so hard and do long hrs doing things

    that give them a better reward?

    I have made two simple tables displaying two work groups. Both have the same amount of

    people doing the same work; can you see what group is the safer group?

    Group (A) total number of LTI free days 365

    Hazards raised that

    have been

    acknowledged by


    Average timeframe

    Hazards were

    closed (days)

    Total cost of

    incidents (using

    incident cost


    Total improvements

    to SOPs approved

    by Management

    Total number of

    Safe Acts observed

    and acknowledged

    by management



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