5 low-cost safety incentive tips for the budget-conscious firms

5 low-cost safety incentive tips for the budget-conscious firms
It's January again and with the New Year comes new budgets. Economic uncertainties in the past year have caused many organizations to rethink spending and focus on savings — and safety budgets are no exception. With that in mind, the staff at COS started to think about ways that organizations could effectively promote safety in the workplace, without too seriously straining their bankroll.

Peter Hollett, the safety manager for Halifax Harbour Bridges, is an advocate of safety incentives, especially when they're done responsibly and affordably. "What I like to do is go out into the work environment and catch somebody doing something that's right. When somebody is doing something right, how often do supervisors and managers walk by that person and say, 'Okay, they're being compliant,' and just keep on going? It's all about positive reinforcement. It really goes a long way."

John Perlik, vice-president of LoyalNation, a corporate awards and recognition program, says investing in low-cost safety incentives that encourage safe behaviours among workers pays off in the long run. "Workers' compensation claims and injuries and lost productivity are all extremely expensive issues for companies," said Perlik. "Many times, for a minimal investment, companies can drive workers' behaviour away from things that lead to those expenses, and as a result can usually recoup that investment many times over."

"Rather than looking at it as a cost, if we design our programs properly for our clients, it's actually an investment in cost savings," he adds.

Our experts agree that safety incentives need not be a huge financial burden for the company. Often, a pat in the back or a simple acknowledgment of a job well done goes a long way in positively reinforcing safe behaviours without breaking the bank. A little creativity also helps in encouraging a culture of safety in the workplace. Consider some of these low-cost safety incentive ideas to keep workers' morale high. 

1. Pizza Party
One easy and affordable way to recognize employees for ensuring safety in the workplace is to throw a special party or event in their honour. To save on costs without skimping on the fun, throw a pizza party or other similar celebration in the workplace to reward your workers' efforts. Extending the lunch hour by a half hour or an hour and offering your employees free food and drinks is a great way to get them talking about the benefits of putting safety first in the workplace while they mingle and enjoy a break.

And besides, who doesn't like a little pizza now and again?

2. And the award goes to...
Sometimes it's the thought that counts, and oftentimes a good thought can go a long way towards showing your appreciation for safe work. One great way to recognize your safety leaders and generate buzz amongst workers is to create a trophy or symbolic item and award it to an employee in an official workplace ceremony. 

As an example, you might want to award something like a bright yellow and black football helmet, or a trophy wrapped with caution tape, to the employee who has best ensured the safety of his or her fellow employees over the course of the last month. Giving the award a fun title like the "Super Safety Helmet" or the "Mr. McSlipalot Memorial Safety Award" helps to create buzz and excite employees about the prospect of taking it home for themselves. This sort of gesture has the added benefit of keeping safety at the front of everyone's minds, since it will inevitably be put on display by its most recent recipient.

Perlik notes, "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." In short, these sorts of gestures also tie in nicely with pizza party presentation ceremonies!

3. Bonus vacation or casual days
There's nothing quite as rejuvenating as a nice day off. If you really want to see your workers scramble to uphold safety in the workplace, offer an extra vacation day or two to the best promoter of safe work practices each quarter. They'll be thankful for it when they come back from holidays with that little extra tan, and their fellow workers are sure to take note. As an added bonus, you can provide them with travel vouchers and gift cards to help them enjoy their time off.

"We have clients that use travel cards," says Perlik. "Basically they're pre-loaded credit cards with certain amounts for travel expenses. Unlike cash, they have a trophy value of assisting the recipient in taking a spouse or friend or family on a trip. That way the winner has the experience of the trip, which they will associate back to what they did to earn it."

Alternatively, if you're looking to make safety a focal point in the workplace, reward your safest employee with a full week's worth of bonus casual days — it's like the casual Friday attire, only the reward recipient gets to do it for a full week. The question of why they stick out like a sore thumb among the workers is sure to start some murmuring in the office about the benefits of helping reduce sore thumbs and other injuries.

4. Dinner's on us!
Much like pizza, you'll have a hard time finding someone who doesn't enjoy a nice dinner out on the town. Offering your safest employee of the month a company-paid dinner with their friends or family is a great way to reward their efforts without disrupting the everyday flow of the workplace. It's also an excellent way of communicating that you care about them beyond the good work they do for you.

It's a theory Hollett readily subscribes to. "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."

Perlik notes that this sort of gesture is popular with clients of LoyalNation. "We have a program with American Express called 'A Night Out on Us,' where recipients earn prepaid dining cards that can be used at restaurants that take American Express. The card comes presented in a nice envelope with a letter from the manager or department head of the company. That way, the employee can go and have a nice dinner with their spouse or a friend, and they're going to associate that dinner with the company they work for and the good work they do there."

Having your organization mentally associated with a nice steak dinner? Now that's something to chew on.

5. "Step into my office, please."
As an employee, it's hard not to be anxious when your boss asks you into their office, even when you know you haven't done anything wrong. It might seem self-evident or perfunctory to some, but 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.

Employees tend to take these sorts of personal gestures to heart, and having such a positive meeting with an employer is the sort of thing that will stick with them for a long time. As an added benefit, closed-door conversations of this nature also have the effect of opening lines of communication between you and your employees, thereby making your workers feel comfortable coming to you with safety concerns or issues in the future.

Safety incentives can be a fun, yet effective way to reinforce safe behaviours in the workplace. However, Hollet cautions it must be implemented responsibly or risk your safety rewards program becoming a double-edged sword for the company.

"When you go to the companies that give out watches and great big trips and things like that, if you really look into it, you'll find out that almost half the time incidents are being hidden form employers instead of workers coming forward on a basis of honesty," he said. "The high-end incentive programs (then) become fear initiatives."

Good communication and reasonable rewards, on the other hand, make for strong safety awareness in the workplace and beyond. "I got a call the other day while I was on holidays," said Hollett, "and one of my guys said, 'I just wanted to let you know that it's 8pm on a Saturday night and I'm sitting here thinking about the bridges and the safety program that's being built, and I'm really happy about it. Merry Christmas to you and yours.' I played that message back to the department supervisors and said, 'You know you're getting through to your employees when they're calling you from home on a Saturday night and telling you they're thinking about safety."