Successful Safety Incentive Programs Examples [A-Z Guide]

Safety incentive programs have a tactic to improve workplace safety culture for at least 50 years. Besides, they played a big part in in the 1980s when they helped reduce the number of injury compensation claims brought forth by employees.  

Some states even put forth legislation that made safety incentive programs a mandatory part of a company’s safety program. Safety incentive programs may have passed their heyday but they are still hugely popular. 

This guide will cover everything you need to know about safety incentive programs, including:

  • The best practices
  • OSHA’s perspective on safety incentive programs
  • Steps needed to create a safety incentive program
  • Types of incentive program and workplace safety contest ideas
  • Successful safety incentive program examples

What are safety incentive programs?

Overall, they are meant as a tool to improve employee safety. As the name implies, safety incentive programs are designed to encourage employees to be more aware of safety procedures and to promote safe behavior. They have been used by companies for a long time to motivate staff, increase safety performance and reduce the number of safety incidents occurring in the workplace. 

A safety incentive program cannot be a stand-alone solution. First, employees at every level need to be engaged, motivated and involved in an overall safety program. Only then can a successful incentive program be incorporated.

Safety managers should describe safety incentive programs in writing and inform all enrolled employees of the rules and their responsibilities. Clemson University Facilities’ Safety Incentive Program is a great example of an accessible program document. 

OSHA and Safety Incentive Programs

There’s a lot of misunderstanding surrounding OSHA’s position on safety recognition programs for employees. While OSHA is not against them, the agency is very clear that actions that encourage staff to misreport, underreport or hide incidents are not acceptable. 

A recent OSHA memorandum states that,

“Action taken under a safety incentive program or post-incident drug testing policy would only violate 29 C.F.R. § 1904.35(b)(1)(iv) if the employer took the action to penalize an employee for reporting a work-related injury or illness rather than for the legitimate purpose of promoting workplace safety and health.” 

How do you create a safety incentive program? 

Of course, you could partner with a safety consulting service to help you create an effective incentive program. But it is also possible to carry it out in-house. The details will be different for every company, but here is a general outline of the steps you can take. 

That being said, here’s how to create and implement an effective safety incentive program.

Identify the most at-risk areas in the company
The program should be tailored to benefit the business and meet the needs of employees. To better understand their safety concerns, you can run a safety culture perception survey.
Focus on incentivizing staff to perform better in the areas which have proven to be the most challenging. 
Set a budget
Incentive programs lead to a reduction in pay-outs for injury claims and save the business money by reducing lost productivity. You can use this as a powerful argument to help fund this type of safety initiative.
Make sure there’s enough money to support the incentive program, while also considering the company’s financial stability.
Get everyone on board
Employees at all levels need to be involved in the success of your safety strategy. The same is true for an incentive program to have a positive effect. It’s especially important to have Safety Managers and Safety Supervisors on board before rolling the program out to the whole workforce.
Ensure that managers and supervisors have all the information they need to engage their teams. Involve all decision-makers in the design of the program to iron out any issues early on. 
Design the program
Decide what actions warrant incentives, what’s on offer,  how and when it is awarded.Be sure to include a reasonable process for reporting incidents and ensure relevant information is available to employees. 
Create a system that rewards staff for taking positive steps and making proactive contributions. Stay away from actions that penalize staff for reporting incidents or may encourage staff to hide, cover-up and misreport accidents.
Review the program
Check for contradictions, make sure it is in line with OSHA regulations and make sure it’s fair to all employees. Make sure the program is easy to follow and incorporate into the day-to-day working lives of your staff.
Reduce the possibility that the program will need to be changed after it has been rolled out to all staff. Make sure all staff are included and that the program is accessible to them. 
Roll-out to staff
Have senior staff introduce the program, explain why it has been created and that it is part of the wider safety strategy. Let staff know what the incentives are and how they can get them. Be ready to answer any questions and address concerns they may have. 
Engage staff, get everyone on board and address any queries early on. 
Review and adapt
Analyze the impact of the program at a suitable time. This could be after a few months or up to a year after implementation. See if there are new areas to target, refresh the safety awards and update the program in line with any new legislation.
Keep the program up-to-date, fresh and engaging for staff while complying with OSHA guidelines.

Type of safety incentive programs

Safety incentive programs generally fall into one of two categories:

Behavior-based safety incentive programs

These programs offer rewards for certain behaviors. For example, a company may decide to offer gift cards for reporting safety issues or for suggesting an effective solution. Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland Counties Municipal Joint Insurance Fund have a behavior-based incentive program.

Rate-based programs 

Based on achieving time-based goals, i.e. If a team keeps the recordable injury rate below a target, all members are entered into a prize draw. Examples of this are available from OSHA.

The trouble with rate-based programs is that they are more likely to contravene OSHA’s regulations. Employee’s interest may be to hide incidents and near misses to maintain their records clean, meet their targets and avoid peer pressure. By contrast, behavior-based programs tend to focus more on improving safety culture in the workplace by focusing on communication, openness, and active participation. 

Ideas for safety incentives

You’re likely to know what type of safety incentives will best motivate your workforce. If not, you can organize a survey at the end of a safety meeting or a safety training session. You can create a safety suggestion box where employees can share their ideas as they go. And you can ask the management team for recommendations. 

If you’re still short on ideas, here are 10 safety award ideas: 

  1. Breakfast with the Boss – Everyone loves a free meal – and a chance to catch up.
  1. Charity donations – Instead of giving employees cash or gift cards, make a regular donation on behalf of your workforce when they achieve a new safety goal.
  1. Contributions to the “Fun Fund” – Reward positive actions by topping up a fund that is used to organize staff outings, concerts, meals and parties. This will ensure everyone benefits from both increased safety and more opportunities to relax.
  1. Day Off Passes – A day off work with full pay. 
  1. Double Break Time – Extra-long breaks – as a one-off or for a set period.
  1. Gift Cards – Let employees choose their own prize with a gift card.
  1. Lottery Tickets – Either for national draws or by using a designated safety lottery scheme.
  1. Professional Development Opportunities – Motivate your employees with opportunities to learn, upskill and develop themselves professionally. This could involve hiring guest speakers or subsidizing courses.
  1. Safety Bucks – Reward employees for reporting hazards and offering solutions with safety bucks – a currency that can be saved and cashed in for prizes. 
  1. Subscriptions to a music or TV streaming service – They will be even more motivated to keep the subscription rolling once they’ve had a taste of the ad-free life  

Things to Consider When Designing a Successful Program

Designing, presenting, and implementing a successful safety incentive program is not a straightforward task. There are a few things to consider along the way which may help fine-tune the details.

The 10-80-10 Theory

This theory is used in many disciplines to explain human behavior and reactions. It states that, in any group of people, (employees in this case):

  • 10% follow the plan and do the right thing just because they feel they should
  • 10% will not do the right thing, no matter what tactics are used
  • The remaining 80% can be convinced either way, but they are looking for the reward. This is the group that the incentive program needs to target. Show them how they will benefit and they will be more likely to get on board. 

Cash Can Get complicated

Cash is a great motivator, but before handing it out as a safety incentive, consider the tax implications. You may be giving employees more of a headache than a reward.

A Wage is Already an Incentive

Some safety activities are part and parcel of your employee’s day-to-day job. The incentive to carry them out is already promised – a salary and any benefits they receive. Incentive programs should reward behaviors that go above and beyond the job description, like identifying hazards, offering solutions and being proactive in approaching safety activities.

Successful safety incentive programs examples

It’s easier to know what you’re working towards if you can see it in action. Here are two case studies of successful safety incentive programs:

  1. Allied Waste Dedicated to Safety Rewards program

An incentive program based on employees earning Safety vouchers which could be redeemed online or from a printed award catalog. The program resulted in a 27% incident frequency rate reduction over two years.

  1. Massey Energy’s “Raymond Safety Bowl”

Another rate-based system featuring redeemable points, as well as a quarterly and annual draw for individuals who reached set achievements. 

Are safety incentive programs effective?

It has been hypothesized that incentive programs could potentially be effective in the short-term but might lose momentum after a while. However, a study by Peter D. Van Derlyke concluded that “safety incentives can have a lasting positive effectiveness if they are maintained and administered properly.”

The effectiveness of a safety incentive program will heavily depend on how it is implemented and how well it suits the employees it is designed to engage. It is important to regularly review and update the program. That way any issues can be caught early and adjustments can be made to improve the likelihood of success.  


Safety Incentive programs are a useful tool in engaging employees in increasing the overall safety of the workplace. If used correctly, as part of a larger safety strategy, such an initiative can be effective. Keep in mind, though, that a successful safety incentive program will need to be implemented correctly and updated regularly to reflect changes in legislation and employee attitudes.

References & Further reading