Safety incentives could lead to fewer reported injuries, illnesses
The Government Accountability Office is recommending that OSHA provide guidance about safety incentive programs to ensure workers are not dissuaded from reporting potential hazards.
"Several experts identified a link between certain types of programs and policies and reporting," the GAO said. "Experts and industry officials ... suggest that rate-based programs may discourage reporting of injuries and illnesses."
Rate-based programs reward workers for achieving low rates of reported injuries or illnesses. But they may unintentionally provide incentives to withhold reporting of injuries.
"For example, an employer might enter all employees who have not been injured in the previous year in a drawing to win a prize, or a team of employees might be awarded a bonus if no one from the team is injured over some period of time," according to a memo OSHA issued recently for regional administrators and whistleblower program managers. "Such programs might be well-intentioned efforts by employers to encourage their workers to use safe practices. However, there are better ways to encourage safe work practices."
Behavior-based programs, on the other hand, offer positive incentives, "such as incentives that promote worker participation in safety-related activities, such as identifying hazards or participating in investigations of injuries, incidents or near misses," OSHA said. Examples of positive incentives are providing T-shirts to workers serving on safety and health committees, offering modest rewards for suggesting ways to strengthen safety and health, or throwing a recognition party at the successful completion of companywide safety and health training.
The GAO estimates that 25 percent of manufacturers had safety incentive programs based on a 2010 survey. It said 22 percent had rate-based safety incentive programs, and 14 percent had behavior-based programs. Additionally, "almost 70 percent of manufacturers also had demerit systems, which discipline workers for unsafe behaviors and 56 percent had post-incident drug and alcohol testing policies," which also may discourage workers from reporting injuries and illnesses.
The GAO report was a follow-up from a 2009 study that found safety incentive programs can provide disincentives for workers to report injuries and illnesses to their employers.
In its latest report, the GAO recommends that OSHA "provide guidance about the safety incentive programs and other workplace safety policies consistently across the agency's cooperative programs, and add language about safety incentive programs and other workplace safety policies to the guidance provided to inspectors in its field operations manual." It noted that OSHA agreed with the recommendations and said it plans to address them.
In its previously issued memo, OSHA warned that safety initiatives that unintentionally or intentionally discourage workers from reporting injuries may be violations of the law.
"Incentive programs that discourage employees from reporting their injuries are problematic because, under section 11(c) [of the OSH Act] an employer may not 'in any manner discriminate' against an employee because the employee exercises a protected right, such as the right to report an injury." The OSHA memo also noted that some employers may have policies of taking disciplinary action against employees who are injured on the job, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the injury. "Reporting an injury is always a protected activity," OSHA said. "OSHA views discipline imposed under such a policy against an employee who reports an injury as a direct violation of section 11(c)."
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June 4, 2012
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