Safety Incentive Programs Encouraging Employees to Hide Work Injuries

While they might seem like a good idea, the Government Accountability Office says safety incentive programs, like rate-based programs, can actually discourage workers from reporting injuries and illnesses to their employers.

Rate-based programs are implemented to benefit workers who achieve low rates of illnesses or injuries. Experts say the program, which is used by about 22 percent of manufacturers, might reward healthy workers with a prize or bonus at the end of the year for their safe work practices. This, according to GAO, leads workers to cover up their injuries or illnesses.

Behavior-Based Programs

Instead of utilizing rate-based programs, the GAO recommends manufacturers consider a behavior-based program. These types of reward concepts offer positive incentives that promote employee participation in safety-based activities, like participating in investigations of incidents or near misses, or identifying hazards. Rather than gifting the team who had no injuries or illnesses in the past year, the behavior-based program provides perks to those who suggest ways to improve safety and health.

In 2010, the survey indicates that about one-quarter of manufacturers used safety incentive programs. Only about one in seven had implemented a behavior-based program.

The same survey also reported about 70 percent of manufacturers had demerit systems, which aim to punish employees for dangerous workplace behaviors. More than half required post-incident alcohol and drug tests – another potential deterrent for workers injured on the job from saying anything about their suffering.

To try and correct the problem, the GAO has made some recommendations to OSHA that it provide clear guidance to manufacturers about the use of safety incentive programs and other safety policies. OSHA says it plans to address them.

Source: Risk & Insurance, “Safety incentives could lead to fewer reported injuries, illnesses,” June 4, 2012

Grazian & Volpe, Part of the Lloyd Miller Law Group