OSHA Questions Some Incentives; So Should We

Jonathan Jacobi

Jonthan Jacobi, Sr. EHS Consultant, UL PureSafety

recent memo from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) focused on employer safety initiatives that could discourage employees from reporting injuries and could discriminate against workers who notify employers about injuries and illnesses. Specifically, OSHA regional administrators and whistle-blower program managers are instructed to look for violations involving discipline and incentives.

Labor Secretary Hilda Solis testified March 12, 2012, before a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives that the agency does not intend to issue citations for employer safety programs in general. But when an internal memo is made this visible, we should consider it a warning shot.

It’s not a new warning. OSHA and industry professionals have wrestled for decades over which safety incentives help prevent incidents and which encourage underreporting. Understanding the difference is not just a compliance issue: Badly designed incentives produce bad data, which drives bad decision-making and increased risk. Well-designed incentives result in world-class safety performance and other business benefits.

In two decades as a safety professional and consultant, I’ve seen the important role that HR professionals play in shaping corporate culture, including defining and evaluating performance incentives. HR professionals are well positioned to “coach the coaches” and provide guidance to everyone from frontline supervisors to C-level executives on how to plan for and inspire improved performance. With that in mind, let’s use the OSHA memorandum to explore some concerns about safety discipline and incentives, and then discuss cultural and coaching practices that help prevent incidents.

Read the rest of this article at SHRM.org – The Society for Human Resource Management.