A few years ago, I worked for a factory where they gave our teams rewards whenever our safety numbers were good. One time, I didn’t bother putting on safety gloves and I cut myself opening up a box in the store room. I didn’t bother reporting it. None of us ever reported the small stuff. The thinking was, “Why bother bringing the numbers up if you can just work through it?”

The Power of Safety Incentive Programs

Safety incentive programs use rewards to encourage employees to follow safety protocols, work safely, and be vigilant on the job. Incentives work for a few different reasons:

  • Rewards for a job well done fulfills our desire for acknowledgment and affirmation
  • Recognition promotes worker engagement (learn more about The Importance of Employee Engagement)
  • Incentives keep safety at the forefront of every worker’s mind

Incentive programs, moreover, don’t have to be costly. The rewards can be as simple as printing personalized certificates or throwing a small party at the end of every month if the relevant safety targets have been met. With a bit of brainstorming, you can come up with ways to encourage safe behavior and reduce the rate of accidents and injuries without putting a strain on your budget.

The Trouble with Safety Incentives: Lagging vs. Leading Indicators

Until recently, it was common for companies to reward employees with cash, prizes, and awards based on lagging indicators of safety. In other words, they rewarded employees for keeping the number of accidents, incidents, and near misses low (for related reading, see Near Misses: What They Are and Why You Should Report Them).

These rewards were meant to give employees and incentive to perform their work safely. Unfortunately, it also put pressure on them not to report workplace safety incidents in order to secure the reward for themselves or their co-workers. This under-reporting leaves management unable to identify trends and patterns and introduce proactive measures to control hazards, provide more relevant training, or acquire better safety equipment. Moreover, even when they are unintentional, these failures to report and record incidents could put employers in violation of OSHA regulations.

Thankfully, there is now a trend towards designing incentive programs based on leading indicators of safety. While lagging indicators track the safety issues that have already happened, leading indicators are, instead, those factors that reduce the likelihood of future incidents. These include safety meetings, technical inspections, and hazard assessments.

To provide safety incentives without discouraging reporting, make sure the rewards are given for activities that promote safety, such as keeping the work area clean and free of obstructions or inspecting PPE and machine guards at the start of each shift.

How Can Employees Get Involved?

Many leading indicators are in the hands of the supervisor or the employer. After all, it’s not up to employees how often they receive training or how frequently technicians service the equipment they use. But there are some things employees can do to ensure that the safety incentive program is a success:

  • Encourage co-workers to follow safety protocols and offer acknowledgment when you see positive safety actions
  • If you have concerns, put them in writing; this makes it easier for management to review the concerns and identify trends
  • Make suggestions! You know your co-workers well, so if you have a great idea for a reward, share it with your supervisor or safety manager


Incentive programs are a great way to encourage safe behavior in the workplace. If you design yours carefully and avoid tying rewards to lagging indicators, you can strengthen your workplace’s safety culture and improve your safety outcomes without unintentionally discouraging your employees from reporting incidents, near misses, and safety violations.