Recognition Programs, what you need to know for the ASP and CSP exams

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January 21, 2024
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Patrick J. Karol,

Reward and recognition programs have been a staple in our safety management tool kit for a long time. Many organizations have used these programs to recognize safety performance or participation in the safety program, change behaviors, and ultimately reduce injuries. These programs can be a low-cost/high-impact initiative when carefully structured and implemented.

On the other hand, they can also be a source of frustration. Frustration with the safety department when it doesn’t produce the anticipated results. Operation supervisors and managers are frustrated when their effort to implement the program exceeds the benefits they receive. Frustration on the part of those who hold the purse strings when they don’t see an ROI after but not seeing results creates tension at best and spending hundreds or thousands of dollars. If a company is spending thousands of dollars on a program, but not seeing results, that creates tension at best and a negative perception of safety at worst. Canceling an ineffective recognition program can negatively affect the safety program for years.

The expectation is that either total injuries or rates are reduced or target at-risk behaviors are improved. When the metrics are not carefully thought through, employees, supervisors, and managers learn to manage the number, particularly when the reward is significant. Poorly implemented programs can encourage underreporting of injuries or increase the number of observations with no consideration for quality.  

OSHA recognizes that incentive programs can be important to promote workplace safety and health. OSHA does not regulate or prohibit these programs but has weighed in with a memorandum that provides the following guidance:

·       Reward workers for reporting near-misses o hazards and encourage safety and health management system involvement. 

·       Consistently enforce legitimate work rules.

·       Encourage involvement in a safety and health management system.

·       Provides a rate-based reward for going injury-free as long as they are not implemented in a manner that discourages reporting. 

Beyond steering clear of OSHA by following this guidance, what makes up an effective recognition program? Here are three elements that a successful program must consider.

1.     Which metric or metrics is the program based on? Understanding the benefits of aligning leading and lagging metrics is critical. Traditional programs are based on lagging metrics or indicators only. In this program, the target group tends to manage to the metric by not reporting injuries. Look for a leading metric that will directly impact the lagging metric. This is the metric that the program should be based on. For example, a company that operates a fleet of vehicles recognizes that speeding contributes to a substantial number of accidents. The leading metric, driving within the posted speed limit, is tracked using telematics. Drivers who stay within the speed limit are recognized.

2.     What is the reward? Understanding the psychology of motivation, particularly the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators is critical. Extrinsic motivators are tangible, external items like money, gift cards, apparel, and lapel pins. Intrinsic motivators come from within the individual and include items like public recognition (it must be sincere), the opportunity for promotion, the opportunity to lead special projects, or a donation in the employee’s name to the employee’s preferred cause. Studies indicate that intrinsic rewards motivate us, while extrinsic rewards satisfy us but do not necessarily motivate us to do more. Most successful programs include both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Consider incorporating the person's family if you choose to provide a monetary award. For example, a $100 gift card to a construction supply store helps only the employee. However, a $100 gift card to a grocery store also makes an impact on the employee’s family (Jacquel, M. T. 2023, Dec).


3.     Who is included? (or who is excluded?) Does the program recognize individual or team contributions or both? Individual awards make sense because people are often driven to want what others have and want to be recognized themselves. I used to hand out “Circle of Safety” lapel pins when I observed a specific behavior. I overheard conversations between employees about the pin. They wanted to know how they could get one if they didn't have one. Team awards can promote friendly competition, which promotes teamwork and encourages peer-to-peer feedback. If you have criteria that disqualify a participant, give them an opportunity to get back in the game by performing designated activities such as participating in the safety meeting or delivering a toolbox talk.


Additionally, the best programs are integrated into the corporate program if one exists. Recognition programs that combine operational metrics with safety metrics have the added benefit of integration. Employees, supervisors, and managers see safety and operations as going hand in hand.

A well-planned and implemented reward and recognition program has many benefits. A successful program engages and motivates employees, promotes teamwork, creates excitement, and reflects positively on the safety and health program. Ultimately, a successful program moves the right needles in the right direction.

On the ASP and CSP exams, particularly the CSP, you are likely to see scenario-based questions on intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, the difference between rewards that motivate us to do more versus the rewards that satisfy us. You may also see questions on the psychology of behavior change and how a recognition and reward program can change behaviors.

Our ASP and CSP guidebooks are available under the Exam Materials tab.

Jacquel, M. T. (2023, Dec) Building an Incentive Program for the Real World. Professional Safety, 68 (12), 20-23