When a company says its safety goal is zero injuries, do employees understand that’s different than zero risk reports?
It’s crucial they know the difference. The main reason: Early reporting avoids problems down the line.
And employees who don’t feel they can raise problems internally will choose to do so externally. Here’s
Safety concern ignored
A contract employee at Wolf Creek Nuclear Operating Corp. in Kansas reported a safety concern during a refueling outage at the plant.
The worker also claimed another Wolf Creek employee attempted to cover up the incident.
While Wolf Creek investigated, it placed the contract employee on paid administrative leave. The worker’s security clearance was temporarily revoked, denying access to the plant.
After its own investigation, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) said Wolf Creek violated an employee protection regulation and fined the company $232,000.
The NRC said Wolf Creek’s investigation didn’t focus on the contract employee’s safety concerns. It focused on the worker’s behavior and removing the contract employee from the site for the rest of the outage.
In a letter to Wolf Creek, the NRC said it considers violations of this regulation “significant because of the potential that individuals might not raise safety issues for fear of retaliation.”
You want whistleblowers
Whistleblower hotline provider NAVEX Global conducted research in 2018 that found whistleblowers are crucial to keep companies financially healthy.
Among NAVEX’s findings:
- Companies using internal reporting systems face fewer lawsuits than those ignoring employee complaints
- When potential problems are reported early, companies are more likely to address them before they become larger problems resulting in costly litigation
- Higher use of internal reports to solve potential problems indicates open communication between employees and management and a belief that issues will be addressed
- When employees report externally, it reflects management’s failure to address issues internally, and
- Many executives stated a goal of zero reports, and nearly 30% of managers reported their company actively discourages whistleblowing.
Encouraging workers to report
Getting employees to report hazards and risks is always a struggle, no matter the company.
But it’s hugely important to get workers to report. Employees know their jobs the best.
Kirsten Ross, Associate Manager of Environmental Health & Safety for Tesla Motors, described one method of encouraging employee reporting at the National Safety Council’s Congress & Expo.
It’s in their safety culture
Ross said the first step is to create a culture of risk transparency.
Employees need to know that the most important reason they’re asked to identify risks is to make their jobs safer and better.
Tesla encourages employees to “stop, stand back, get help immediately.”
If there’s something they’re unsure about or don’t know how to do, Tesla wants them to ask for help.
The company’s Find It, Fix It (FIFI) program creates conversations between employees and their supervisors. It lets workers know they can go to managers with potential safety problems without fear.
Supervisors then give employees positive reinforcement for their efforts. Thanking them is an important part.
The last piece is closing the loop. Ross says, “If you ask for information, be prepared to do something with it.” Let employees know what was done and the impact of their risk reporting.
Ross says taking these steps lets Tesla’s workers know they can report hazards and risks – in fact, they’re encouraged to!
Incentivizing risk reports
Another tool companies use to get workers to uncover hazards and risks is an incentive program.
For decades, safety incentive programs were often (and still are) tied to injury prevention.
When the goal was zero injuries, the reward was usually something big that happened only once a year: a paycheck bonus, a big steak dinner or pizza party for all employees or even the drawing for a pickup truck.
These rewards were usually one-size-fits-all: Everyone got the same thing no matter how much more or less an employee worked on being safe at work.
When creating a safety incentive program for reporting risks and hazards, rewards should be individual and not tied to a once-a-year event.
One way to do this is through an individual points program. Example: Reporting a near miss is worth X points. Investigating a near miss is worth Y points. Identifying a hazard is worth Z points.
Then, employees can cash in the points for a reward. A gift card to a local merchant is worth A points. An extra vacation day is worth B points. You get the idea.
While keeping an injury count at zero is a huge, yearlong undertaking, the goals used in a points program are smaller, more attainable and will likely result in real safety improvements.
There’s an extra benefit if you’re able to combine the safety incentive program should be combined with other reward plans, such as those for attendance, years of service, quality control, mentoring new employees, etc.
Why? Two reasons. Integrating incentive programs makes safety part and parcel of doing good work – not something separate from other goals such as quality and productivity.
And the safety points will become more valuable because they accumulate with others – and that can lead to bigger potential rewards.
This doesn’t have to be a lot of work Incentive programs can be made as simple as you’d like.
One option is to find vendors who create and maintain reward programs. Several companies provide merchandise, gift cards or even airline frequent flyer miles, including a website where employees can go to see what their potential rewards are. These vendors can help employers determine what factors to track and set up the tracking method.
What’s the cost?
Now that we’re talking about the real rewards in terms of gift cards or merchandise, the question of cost can’t be ignored.
If your company has been maintaining a safety incentive program based on trailing indicators (number of injuries), you already know what the cost is. Incentivizing leading indicators is just a matter of shifting from one program to another.
A note on that: You face the possibility that at least some employees won’t initially like the switch in safety incentive programs. For some employees, all they had to do to get their safety reward was not get injured. Now, they’ll have to do something proactive to get the incentive. Under the old system, the incentive became an entitlement.
When the benefits of the program revision are communicated properly, the grumbling will be minimal. The question for the persistent grumblers: Are they willing to do what some of their co-workers are doing regarding safety and get rewarded, or would they rather sit by the sidelines and go without?
If your company is concerned about the costs of an incentive program, here are some numbers to consider:
- The National Safety Council estimates the average cost of a lost-time injury to be around $38,000, and
- Employers can save $4.00 to $6.00 for every dollar spent on a safety and health program, according to Liberty Mutual’s Research Institute for Safety.
What companies are doing
When it comes to incentive programs based on hazard and risk reporting, there’s no one-size-fits-all option. With that in mind, here are some first-person, real-world examples that work.
These examples were originally posted by safety professionals on Safety News Alert:
- I developed a plan to base incentives on employee participation instead of simply not getting hurt. Then I made a list of things that we wanted to accomplish and then presented that to the employee safety committee with the mandate to base getting incentives on accomplishing the goals. The program was hugely successful.
- Our plan is based on proactive steps reported to, recorded and audited by the safety committee. Measurements include the number of near misses reported, job/task observations, area inspections, safety team meetings, completion of compliance and awareness training and monthly safety topics.
- We perform risk assessments. We reduce or eliminate hazards we identify. When we do have an injury, it’s usually very minor. We also record and study “near hits,” where something occurred but no one was hurt. A near hit is still an accident to us.
- Try incentivizing those who report near misses and do something with the knowledge. Have the employees in the field understand that their action on a near miss means something and does make an impact when it comes to safety, which in turn will make a significant difference in the bottom line.
- I do believe we place too much on finding people doing things wrong when we should be focusing on people doing things right. Make finding people doing the right thing a priority, and it will help the safety program in any business.
- We must reward behaviors that help prevent injuries and illnesses, so we give recognition and/or rewards for submitting safety suggestions, handing in near-miss reports, being proactive on maintenance objectives, participating in safety training or becoming a trainer to deliver the safety training. All this will encourage safe behavior.
- We give gasoline cards monthly for people who are “caught” doing something safe and for submitting safety suggestions. This has been a big hit! The names go onto a list and prizes are drawn at random.
- About 15 years ago, we had a program that rewarded departments for the number of days without injuries. We also had a very high injury rate that neatly coincided with the day after the rewards were given. So, we changed it up. Now we give rewards to individuals for reporting hazards, telling us about near misses and bringing up ideas on ways to make things safer.
- In six months, we had only three suggestions in the safety box. So, we folded in quality, production, housekeeping, etc. and renamed them Opportunities for Improvement (OFIs). When people turned in an OFI, we put their names into a raffle with a weekly drawing for $25 and a monthly one for $100. In six months, we received 892 OFIs. We also reduced our injuries, and in six months spent only $2,500.
Whatever method you choose to encourage employees to report hazards and risks, the benefit will be more than avoiding OSHA whistleblower cases. When employees feel they can report without retribution – in fact the reporting is encouraged – a company’s safety culture grows, too.