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Safety Is Not A Contest

People don’t buy-in to safety because they get a prize.

cash.jpgOnce upon a time I was photocopier salesperson. Our sales manager would run regular sales contests. The most cold-calls would win a cash prize. The most sales in a month would win a hotel stay and dinner. The top salesman annually would win a big cash bonus. The winners were usually those who were top of the heap anyway.

After a while, the incentive program stopped working because the same few won all the time. The contests hurt morale and camaraderie. Teamwork suffered.

Radio stations use contests as incentives to listen for longer periods of time. Among the tens of thousands of listeners though, only a small core of a few hundred regularly play the contests. You hear this: “If you haven’t won in the last 30 days, call XXX-XXXX to claim your prize now. I’ll take the 7th caller.” The same few people play all the contests. Most don’t.

Safety contests most often give away a monthly or quarterly cash prize to one or two. Maybe there’s an annual grand prize of a trip or larger cash prize. The criteria is usually based on some sort of points system.

But there is a flaw. A company of 100 employees offering 5 prizes over the course of a year means 5 people win and 95 get nothing for their hard work. More lose than win. Although the company may benefit from better safety participation, the majority of employees don't see their immediate win. And, when an employee can see that they are well back of the leaders after the first week, they're likely to give up. Those may be the employees you’re trying to get to improve their safety participation.

Safety is not a contest. It is a way you do business. There are no prizes awarded to someone in HR for hiring better employees. Finance personnel don’t get prizes for getting the math right. Doing these things are conditions of employment. It’s the expectation, not the exception.

Contests take the focus off of safety and put it on the contest. Employees want to know how they can win so they can do only that. Safety culture does not happen as the result of a contest. Doing the right thing isn’t a contest. Pitting employees against each other to win prizes doesn’t build teamwork. You’ve got to find ways to bring them closer together to care more about each other, and less about themselves.

Here are three things you can do to improve safety instead of running contests:

1Make safety meetings inviting. No boring talks about statistics and reports. No long, drawn out PowerPoint slides with 17 bullet points per slide. Instead, talk about what parts of safety you’re doing right. Recognize those who are demonstrating the right behaviors. Talk about teamwork and motivation. Involve more discussion from the floor. Read out the safety observations made by employees or the reporting of a near miss. Then, if you want to offer a small token of appreciation like a $10 gift card at Starbucks, give one to everyone who participated that day. But don’t give something away every day. Do it occasionally so it doesn’t become the reason employees do the right thing. Make safety a celebration.

2Create safety awareness campaigns that make people proud of where they work and who they work with. Create a sense of community in your communications. People don’t get incentives to look out for their senior citizen neighbor, or pick up trash in the neighborhood, or protect a neighbor’s property when they’re away. People do it because it’s the right thing to do. They do it because they care about where they live. Create a sense of community with co-workers. Build strong, reliable teams - just like championship sports teams. Help people feel like they are part of something special. When you shift safety culture, you shift corporate culture.

3Spend money on supervisor training and education. Organizations should spend money on something worthwhile. Give your supervisors better management skills and get them to carry the safety torch. If you want to affect real change, start with the largest influence that an employee has; their direct supervisor. In a strong corporate culture, a poor supervisor can still turn over staff. And a good supervisor can not only keep good staff but motivate them and build a strong crew culture. An employee’s largest influence in safety is the employee’s direct supervisor. If you’re going to spend money, spend it there.

the perfect safety meeting ebookLet’s keep the focus on safety and not on contests. And, if your company safety meetings are still voluntary, seriously, buck up. OH&S is not voluntary. Safety meetings need to be mandatory. Participation at safety events needs to be mandatory. Those who can’t attend in-person can watch a video recording of the meeting and sign off. Record your safety meetings to video and make them available on-demand. Because safety is how you do business here.

People don’t buy-in to safety because they get a prize. They buy-in to safety because they get a lifelong win for themselves. If you can’t help them find the win for themselves, a contest won’t fix it.

Kevin Burns helps organizations integrate caring for and valuing employees through their safety programs. In addition to consulting with and facilitating discussions between all levels of management and supervisory, Kevin can also give engaging, entertaining and inspiring presentations to front-line employees at safety meetings. Kevin Burns is a management consultant, safety leadership speaker and author of 9 books. He is based in Calgary, Canada.

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Topics: kevin burns, safety meeting, safety incentives, safety supervisor