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6 Reasons Your Safety Program Isn’t Working – Hawk Incentives

And what you can do to improve it

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There’s no reason a safety program shouldn’t offer solid ROI. If your program is under performing, diagnose and fine-tune for better results. Many companies, especially those in manufacturing, energy, and natural resources, have safety programs in place.

An example of a highly successful program is the one adopted by aluminum producer, Alcoa, which led to a huge improvement in the bottom line in just five years. Earnings increased sevenfold, and sales grew 15 percent each year. These numbers were due in part to Alcoa’s “lost time” from employee injuries declining significantly over this period. So how can you implement a successful safety program?

There are six main reasons why safety programs tend to fail. If you know these reasons, you can diagnose a program and take steps to correct problems.

1.      Your program just “talks at them”

According to one review on habit formation and change in organizations, classes and seminars only go so far. Sure, they might change the way an employee thinks about safety at the moment the class is happening. But how can a program ensure that safety information and training will be remembered on the jobsite, not just in the classroom?

A successful safety program rewards safe habits, which should be taught to employees and managers not only in the classroom but on the floor before shifts, using real-life situations whenever possible. A good safety program will include safety drills and hands-on training, staying as true as possible to “real” circumstances that employees face every day. The closer training is to the real thing, the more it will begin to ingrain safe habits.

2.      They’re not motivated—yet

Training is just one factor, however. You have to give employees some incentive to pause, remember their training, use their safety equipment and work according to proper procedures.

On a daily basis, people develop habits for which they’ve received positive reinforcement. Unfortunately, positive reinforcement works just as well for bad habits as for good. An employee might receive positive reinforcement for getting a job done quickly, even though they’ve skipped important safety steps. Or poor habits might be reinforced if they perform their job unsafely but without negative consequences. Each time employees cut corners and nothing bad happens, the bad habit is reinforced.

In order for your safety program to work, you have to overcome these inadvertent habits. And the only way to do that is to give incentives for proper safety behavior that outweigh the ones for improper safety behavior. Alcoa, for example, made rewards for attaining specific safety goals a part of their variable compensation package, beyond salary and commission.

3.      Your program focuses on accident reports, not safe procedures

No question, accident reports are important. But a clean accident report is an outcome, not necessarily a reflection of a process. Reinforcing clean reports could encourage safe behavior. But it could also be a temptation to turn in less than accurate reports without other measurements of safety along the way.

A better approach is to reward all behaviors that are known to increase safety. For example, instead of giving out bonuses for low accident reports, give immediate recognition to employees who make safety suggestions or spot potential safety issues. Or give small corporate gifts to employees identified by managers as complying with all safety steps at their post. Clean reports are nice, but behavior, not reports, prevents accidents.

4.      You don’t have the right incentives in place

What you use as an incentive is almost as important as using an incentive. For example, suppose you try to reinforce safety by giving employees a small cash bonus at the end of the year if their supervisors report safe behavior. Statistics show that cash rewards do little to motivate safe behavior. Why?

First, once a year isn’t often enough. It’s so much better to reward more often, like quarterly or monthly. Second, cash added to one’s paycheck is not terribly memorable or motivating. In fact, your employees might come to see it as part of their pay. They’ll feel entitled to the bonus, rather than view it as something extra earned for correct behavior. It’s better to use a memorable, experiential reward that stands out from regular compensation.

 5.      You try to force change instead of involve employees

Many safety programs begin with upper management installing a program and requiring safety training. Middle management is then left to enforce what’s learned in the training. This is known as the top-down approach. What’s missing? Front-line employees.

Front-line workers have the most experience with performing tasks and often have the best insights into how to do their jobs more safely. Plus, when workers are allowed to shape a program from the beginning, they’re more likely to comply with regulations. A recent study published by New Solutions found that organizations with more of the workforce on safety committees have lower injury and illness rates. Safety programs function better when everyone is involved.

6.      You don’t have a safety culture in place

If the only things that managers focus on are speed and efficiency, you can bet that employees will aim for the same things. Only they’ll do so at the expense of other things. Like safety.

To make a safety program work, it must be given high priority.  Get your management on board. And, above all else, make sure that your employees understand that safety itself is a goal, as important (or more important) than speed and efficiency. If a safety culture isn’t put in place, your employees will be positively reinforced when they cut corners, trading safety for speed.

Contact us at or online at to learn more about how our rewards can help improve your recognition, loyalty or promotion programs.

About Hawk Incentives

Hawk Incentives, a Blackhawk Network business, delivers incentive programs that build relationships with easy-to- use platforms, global rewards and comprehensive service and support. Our solutions include consumer, sales, channel and employee incentive programs. With a focus on access, ease, rewards and speed, we help create a better incentives experience that helps our clients grow their results. Hawk Incentives, headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, is a division of Blackhawk Network.

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