A debate over the value of incentive programs has split the workplace safety community. Advocates say that using some type of “carrot” that encourages employees to choose safe behaviors over unsafe ones can help them stay focused on avoiding hazards – an awareness that contributes to long-term behavior change and fewer accidents. Opponents argue that these programs offer a poor substitute for good safety management and only encourage employees to underreport injuries.
Seth Marshall is president of Safety Pays, a company he founded in the 1990s targeting employees who found safety messages dry, and those who already considered themselves safe workers. Marshall took an off-the-shelf bingo game and kicked it up several notches to entertain workers and keep them engaged while communicating essential safety messages and best practices, integrating safety into daily consciousness, and making employees feel a sense of ownership over what occurs in the workplace.
The mechanics of the Safety Pays game are relatively simple. The bingo-style game usually has a relatively small number of people – a work group, team, or division. At the start of a round, every player receives a bingo card with a safety message, and one number is called per day. The jackpot is set at $25 at the beginning of each new game. The prize increases by $1 a day until there’s a winner. At that point, the next game starts, with the jackpot in the amount at which the last game ended. The prize increases up to a limit preset by management. However, if job-safety incident (as defined by the company using the game) occurs, the jackpot reverts to $25.
“What’s going on here,” Marshall explains, “is that every day there’s a reason to think about safety because employees know they’ll be going to the bingo board.” The board not only reveals the day’s number, but also is located near an attractive display that features safety advisories on selected topics and other information.
Safety Pays is working well, according to Marshall. The approximately 10,000 companies that have used the game have seen workplace safety loss reductions of 50%, according to such metrics as injuries, dollars, and claims frequency.
As for the criticism that safety incentive programs encourage employees to “bury” incidents, Marshall says he’s never seen it in the businesses he serves, in part because the system guards against the practice. When employees sign in for a new card, they also sign a statement that says they have not experienced an incident during the previous game round.