Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Safety as Its Own Incentive: Companies Wanting to Kickstart Safety Programs Often Try Adding Incentives to Motivate Workers to Adopt Safer Work Practices. Whether This Approach Is Successful or Not Depends on How It Is Done

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Safety as Its Own Incentive: Companies Wanting to Kickstart Safety Programs Often Try Adding Incentives to Motivate Workers to Adopt Safer Work Practices. Whether This Approach Is Successful or Not Depends on How It Is Done

Article excerpt

For years, companies have been implementing safety incentive or recognition programs to motivate employees to act and think safely in the workplace. Proponents of safety incentives say they are an important element in any safety and health program. Opponents, though, claim incentive programs can contribute to non-reporting of injuries.

Companies slowly are recognizing that instead of concentrating their efforts on lagging indicators such as reporting and reducing workplace injuries, they instead should be proactive in helping employees embrace positive attitudes about safety, claims Victor Anapolle, program consultant for the Bill Sims Co., a Columbia, S.C.-based incentives company.

"Most people now believe that trailing indicators are not effective as they can lead to non-reporting," Anapolle says. "Now our clients are looking for programs that get their workers more involved in activities that help them adopt better safety practices."

Safety jackpots, safety bingos and drawings are among the types of safety recognition programs companies employ to add interest to the safety program. Experts agree there is little difference among the incentive packages available; what differs is the employer's commitment and philosophy toward safety. While some employers utilize incentive programs from outside entities, others have come up with creative ways to enact in-house programs.

Don Mario: Symbol of Success

An example of this is Landscape Development Inc., a Valencia, Calif.-based landscaping contracting company that has put the topic of safety in the forefront of its employees' minds through a fictional character called "Don Mario."

According to Ricardo "Nixon" Ruiz, Landscape Development's safety coordinator, Don Mario was created by CEO Gary Horton in August 2005 and is the star of a book he wrote and distributed to workers and new hires to get them motivated about safety.

Like many of Landscape Development's employees, Don Mario, a Latino immigrant, began his life in the United States as an orange picker. Don Mario eventually became the owner of a successful landscaping company. The book attributes Don Mario's rise to owner to three fundamental principles: absolute safety, brutal honesty and making clients "raving fans."

"The company's owner [Horton] wanted to find a way to motivate his employees to not only think about safety but to also let them know that with good work practices, they can also get promoted to higher positions," Ruiz explains.

As a complement to the book, the company developed a unique reward system by distributing "Don Mario" coins to workers who noticeably put the company's three pillars into practice. The coin system has been successful: Ruiz notes that there has been an evident reduction in worker injuries.

"When one of our superintendents sees our field employees perform an outstanding service or points out something unsafe in the job they are doing, they are presented with a Don Mario coin, which is redeemable for $25," Ruiz says.

The coins have become so popular that some of the employees have preferred to keep the coins instead of redeeming them for the money, according to Ruiz. In addition to receiving coins, workers are recognized in a bimonthly company newsletter distributed to all 1,100 employees. Whenever employees are rewarded with a coin, they also fill out a form that automatically becomes part of their permanent file, which benefits them when they are in line for a promotion.

"Our boss is really focused on the program," Ruiz says. "As safety is our No. 1 priority, we encourage our guys to be safe and the Don Mario coins are a successful tool in helping the company continue with that principle."

Employee recognition is one way to promote a program on a continuous basis, which is essential for building safety awareness, according to Mike Kleier, president of I.R. Promotions in Louisville, Ky. …

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