Safety incentive programs can play a major role in getting employees involved in the accident prevention process, however incentive programs focused solely on accident rates can drive injury reporting “underground”, increase the average cost of injuries, and now can set employers up for a Retaliatory Citation under 29 CFR 1904.35 from OSHA.

Incentive programs that reinforce proactive activities to improve the physical safety of the workplace and improved methods and behaviors while working, such as hazard reporting, attendance at safety training, process improvement suggestions, completion of observations, etc., are permissible by OSHA under § 1904.35(b)(1)(iv). However incentive programs focused exclusively on reducing the number of injuries and illnesses, that results in withholding a prize or bonus because of a reported injury, would be a citable offense according to a recent OSHA Memorandum.

Per OSHA, “an employer could avoid any inadvertent deterrent effects of a rate-based incentive program by taking positive steps to create a workplace culture that emphasizes safety, not just rates.”

For example, any inadvertent deterrent effect of a rate-based incentive program on employee reporting would likely be counterbalanced if the employer also implements elements such as:

• An incentive program that rewards employees for identifying unsafe conditions in the workplace;

• A training program for all employees to reinforce reporting rights and responsibilities and emphasizes the employer’s non-retaliation policy;

• A mechanism for accurately evaluating employees’ willingness to report injuries and illnesses.