For a while now, OSHA has been telling businesses that they need to take a closer look at their safety incentive programs. Now, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) says OSHA has to take a closer look at its guidance about safety incentive programs.
The GAO report agrees with OSHA that safety incentive programs that are tied to low injury rates may discourage injury reporting. But the GAO isn’t ready to recommend that businesses completely throw out these types of programs. The report also says the a program that’s tied to low injury rates at a company with a positive safety culture may not have an effect on injury reporting.
Just two months ago, OSHA told its inspectors to watch for workplace policies and practices that could discourage workers from reporting injuries. Those policies included safety incentive programs that offer monetary or other rewards to workers for a zero or low injury rate.
But the GAO notes that safety incentive programs are not addressed in OSHA guidance, including its field operations manual for inspectors.
“As a result, inspectors may miss opportunities to educate employers about the benefits of promoting a positive safety culture and avoiding prevalent programs and policies that can discourage accurate reporting of injuries,” the GAO report said. “In addition, in the absence of consistent guidance on the potential benefits and risks of some safety incentive programs and workplace safety policies, OSHA may recognize some employers as having exemplary safety and health management systems without considering the potentially negative effects of some of their programs and policies.”
The GAO also recommends OSHA implement criteria on safety incentive programs across all of its cooperative programs. Incentives are addressed in the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) but not in some others such as the Safety and Health Achievement Recognition Program (SHARP).
OSHA has already agreed with the GAO’s recommendations. The upshot for businesses: Expect OSHA inspectors to keep an eye out for any program or policy that might discourage employees from reporting injuries. Also, having the right types of incentives will become a part of all OSHA cooperative programs.