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Why OSHA is Strict on Safety Incentive Programs

Why OSHA is Strict on Safety Incentive Programs

When it comes to promoting a workplace safety culture, safety professionals can tend to run into two issues, one issue being while the company’s safety is your top priority, many of the rest of the employees within the company do not seem to care as much and might even resent any safety measures put in place. On the other hand, many methods that you may try to put in place in order to motivate your employees to take the safety steps necessary can actually end up violating OSHA’s guidelines, bringing about unnecessary and unwanted safety audits and fines.

On March 12, 2012, OSHA created a Memorandum relayed to all Regional Administrators with additional policies/guidelines that closely analyzes safety incentive programs and since, additional OSHA documentation has been released to clarify even further. Why is OSHA so harsh when it comes to guidelines around safety incentive programs? Afterall, an efficiently implemented safety incentive program not only will encourage safe behavior, but it will also allow employees to become more aware of workplace dangers and appreciate why safety measures need to be set in place. In all actuality, OSHA is strict for good reason. When created inefficiently, safety incentive programs can actually bring about negative effects on your company’s overall safety. See why:

Injuries/Illnesses Underreporting

As relayed by the multi-year Recordkeeping National Emphasis program, over 50% of all companies audited were underreporting their injuries and illnesses. The widely-held industry suspicion shared by OSHA seemed to be that employees were purposefully withholding from reporting accidents, injuries and illnesses in order to avoid the punishments or achieve the awards set in place by incentive programs and therefore skewing the numbers reported. Government
Accountability Office (GAO) Reports conducted in 2009 and 2012 relayed that incentive programs in fact may very well discourage these reportings. Experts are quoted as stating that particularly, programs that involve the requirement of drug and/ or alcohol tests after an accident occurs can discourage employees reporting on cases of injury and illness.

Creation of Whistleblowing Issues

OSHA sees the discrimination of an employee by an employer due to the employee reporting an injury or illness as a potential barrier to whistleblowing. Some incentive programs involve disciplinary actions against incidences of injury and illness, but that isn’t the only form of discrimination this type behavior is limited to. Even positive incentives, such as a reward or bonus to employees and/or groups of employees who have a low injury/illness history is seen as discriminatory in OSHA’s eyes. This is because the employer would be withholding something positive from someone due to the fact that they were injured, again encouraging underreporting.

Gray Areas with Company Rules

It is commonplace for employers to set rules about the timing of an injury reporting (the employee must report the injury/illness within a certain time limit) as well as whether the person injured can be held at fault due to deviating from safety laws and therefore suffer disciplinary consequences. Neither of these are unlawful regulations to have set in place. In fact, OSHA recommends having safety rules such as these in place. However, they do involve blurred lines that can also discourage the reporting of illness and injury. For instance, one might suffer what they believe to be an insignificant injury but come to find out awhile later that it is more serious than they thought. However, they may be afraid to report it since they are outside the regulated time period of doing so. As far as blurred lines within disciplinary actions: not all safety rules are specific. For instance, how would the company decipher if an employee did, in fact, “use extreme caution” when operating a certain piece of machinery?

Once you know why OSHA carefully scrutinizes safety incentive programs, it is much easier to create one that will comply to their guidelines and have a greater positive effect on safety within your company. For specific OSHA policies and guidelines regarding safety incentives as well as tips and examples for creating your own safety incentive program, download our free guide: “OSHA Guideline-Complying Safety Incentive Programs.”

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