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How do you promote workplace health and safety?

When Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, it turns out he was talking about fire safety at a time when fire departments and other prevention measures didn’t exist. Not only does this show that we’ve been debating preventive measures for at least close to 300 years, but the story also seems to demonstrate the truth of the claim: it is far cheaper to introduce measures to prevent fires or reduce their damaging effects than it is to rebuild afterwards.

But what does it mean for today’s businesses who already have in place strict health and safety protection measures based on legal standards? Well, until a workplace reaches the ultimate goal of zero accidents, injuries or other health and safety issues, employers and employees will be looking for ways to improve their working conditions—for many reasons besides simple compliance: efficiency, productivity, morale, profit.

But now that we’ve got fire departments and health and safety programs and joint health and safety committees, and all kinds of regulations governing how we operate safe businesses, what else can we do?

Well, it’s one thing to implement workplace health and safety initiatives, but it’s a whole other thing to engage employees in health and safety, sometimes even their own safety. The good news is that organizations can do this at little to no cost. At the most basic level, it comes down to rewarding workers for good health and safety outcomes, even when those actions are mundane, like operating a piece of heavy machinery in a safe manner—and according to the rules.

Canadian Occupational Safety magazine recently offered the following five low-cost ways to reward good behaviour and engage employees in their own and others’ health and safety.

Hold a pizza party

pizzaWhen a workplace goes a certain number of days without an accident, or when a department passes a series of internal health and safety visits, give the workers an extra half hour or so for lunch and treat them to pizza or something they prefer. Have employees (if they’re comfortable) make brief speeches on what they did to deserve the reward and why they did what they did. It’s “a great way to get them talking about the benefits of putting safety first in the workplace while they mingle and enjoy a break.” I’m sure even Ben Franklin would appreciate a pizza lunch.

Give an award

awardWhen one worker or a group performs especially well in maintaining a healthy and safe workplace, have an official workplace ceremony and give out an award—some symbolic item that the outstanding worker or workers can display at their stations, desks or even in their homes, at least until the next person wins it! “Trophies and plaques and the like serve as interesting things that people can put up in their office or their house as a kind of visual reminder of the sort of behaviours they exhibited to earn recognition. They can also be presented in front of a peer group by a manager, which helps as far as getting emotional buy-in from other people in the organization.” Hey, you can also combine an award ceremony with an award pizza lunch.

Offer bonus vacation days

vacationDespite Canadians’ habit of not using all of their allotted vacation days, what worker doesn’t want an extra day off? A paid vacation day might cost a bit more than a token like a trophy or plaque, but workers who win one will appreciate it not only because the company has recognized them but because they should feel better when they return to work. And when workers know days off are up for grabs, they’ll pay attention.

Award a dinner

dinnerFor something a little different, you can award a dinner voucher to a popular restaurant or a prepaid credit card that the winner can use anywhere that accepts plastic. That way, the person can share the reward friends or family, and your organization doesn’t have to disrupt the workplace. It doesn’t have to be fancy, either. In many cases, a simple coffee shop gift card will do the trick. “When you see somebody doing something that’s safe, that’s when you pull them aside in front of their fellow workers and reward them right on the spot with a $25 breakfast gift certificate or something along those lines.” Whenever winners use the card, they’ll think about their safe behaviour that helped them win it.

Offer a personal commendation

handshakeOne of the simplest and least costly incentives is a plain old handshake from the boss. Take a high-performing employee aside or invite him or her into your office and offer a hearty thanks for doing a great job and setting an example for the rest of the workplace. “Beyond all the recognition and reward of publicly acknowledging their efforts, speaking with an employee privately and thanking them for their commitment to safety can go a long way towards establishing a meaningful working relationship with them and making them feel appreciated.”

Let me know what you think. Do you think any of these methods is effective? How does your company reward safe behaviour?

Adam Gorley
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Adam Gorley

Adam Gorley is a copywriter, editor and researcher at First Reference. He contributes regularly to First Reference Talks, Inside Internal Controls and other First Reference publications. He writes about general HR issues, accessibility, privacy, technology in the workplace, accommodation, violence and harassment, internal controls and more. Read more
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2 thoughts on “How do you promote workplace health and safety?
  • Adam Gorley says:

    Thanks very much for your comment Tony!

    Of course you’re right. Organizations have to set a fine balance so they encourage good safety behaviour among employees while not discouraging employees from reporting health and safety incidents.

  • Tony Collins says:

    Awards for best ideas etc are fantastic, but awards for low injuries can be counter productive – and stop people reporting eg who would report an incident which would stop their whole team getting a pizza or longer lunch? Just be careful…