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OSHA-compliant programs can improve employee engagement

News | May 1, 2018 | By:

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded that 2.9 million workplace injuries occurred in 2016, more than half of which resulted in time away from the job. The cost to business? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), workplace injuries and subsequent absenteeism amount to well over $200 billion per year.

One would assume that having a safety incentive program would reduce injuries on the job. In fact, the traditional approach to such programs has proven otherwise—and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has taken notice and issued guidance.

What’s wrong with traditional safety incentive programs?

Many safety incentive programs that are not compliant with OSHA rules are based on lagging indicators—past activities and events that appear to indicate that a company is headed in the right direction where safety is concerned. Lagging indicators include:

  • The frequency and/or severity of injuries
  • The number of lost work days
  • The number of OSHA citations
  • The amount lost in workers’ compensation claims

All of this is valuable data. The problem arises when companies give their employees incentives for reducing the numbers themselves. For example, when companies give cash bonuses or gift cards to employees for injury-free months or quarters, employees are incentivized to not report injuries.

Some companies go so far as to threaten or punish employees who file reports on unsafe practices, their own injuries or the injuries of others. In one case, if a worker reported an injury, he or she was forced to wear an orange vest for a week, making it obvious to coworkers that the reporting of the injury had denied them their expected prize (and making the reporter a pariah among coworkers).

Online reporting

Employers may begin to electronically report their Calendar Year (CY) 2017 Form 300A data to OSHA. All covered establishments must submit the information by July 1, 2018. Employers can view their submitted CY 2016 Form 300A summary information, but they cannot edit or submit additional 2016 data on OSHA’s Injury Tracking Application (ITA) website. Not all businesses are covered by this requirement. To determine if your business must provide its 2017 data, visit

What data should be used for an OSHA-compliant safety program?

Safety incentive programs miss the mark when they rely solely on lagging data. Instead, leading indicators can help predict where improvements will be made if particular actions are taken. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Training programs conducted by the company for its employees
  • Safety certifications received by a particular individual, team or company
  • Employee surveys and risk assessments
  • New safety procedures and policies
What are the benefits to an OSHA-compliant safety incentive program?

Safety incentive program that comply with OSHA rules have a number of benefits. These programs can:

  • Identify potential issues by encouraging employees to report unsafe conditions or possible hazards.
  • Educate employees on proper procedures by keeping them up-to-date on the latest policies with posted content and online training.
  • Reinforce safe behavior with rewards, using monetary and non-monetary incentives to encourage participation and reward those who work to improve the safety of the working environment.
  • Drive employee engagement through the common goal of keeping their place of employment a safe place to work. A recent Gallup study showed that the top 25 percent of engaged companies see 70 percent fewer safety incidents than companies that are not engaged.

OSHA’s rule on workplace injuries requires electronic submission of injury and illness data by certain companies. Additionally, the rule no longer requires employees to file a complaint about their employer before the agency can get involved; now, OSHA can cite companies for retaliation against employees based on its own evidence of such activities. OSHA hopes companies will be pressured to boost their workplace safety practices.

Now is the time to examine your existing safety incentive program to determine if a) it is compliant with OSHA’s rules, and b) it is set up in such a way that you see continuous improvements.

Ingrid Catlin is the director of marketing at WorkStride. WorkStride builds highly configurable recognition, sales incentive, performance and rewards programs that address and adapt to dynamic needs, helping individuals and organizations increase employee engagement, optimize performance and enhance impact. For more, visit

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