Avoid injury, get beef. Fair incentive?
December 3, 2007 12:01 PM   Subscribe

Management has promised an all-you-can-eat barbecue if we reach 30 days with no workplace injuries (four more days to go). Is this a harmless incentive to work safely, or a subtle way to discourage reporting an injury? Is this a common practice? I work in a physically demanding, industrial environment for a Fortune 500 corporation. The most common injuries result from lifting/lowering, repetitive motions, and encounters with equipment.
posted by colgate to Work & Money (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think it was probably well-intentioned, but that doesn't make it okay.The idea was probably a goal to get people to be more careful. But it does set up a system whereby there's significant peer pressure to hide injuries.

The problem is that, if it was a well-intentioned program, it's based on the pretty foolish belief that injuries are occurring because of carelessness. Something tells me that people at your job aren't willing to risk life and limb to increase productivity, and this is therefore a flawed assumption.

Any bets on how many injuries are going to be reported on the 31st day?
posted by fogster at 12:20 PM on December 3, 2007

I would veer to the side of "good job for following safety guidelines" rather than corporate malfeasance. It's easy to think your bosses are conspiring to stop their employees from reporting injuries, but one on-the-job injury can far outweigh the cost of a barbecue for most businesses.

Maybe next time there won't be a barbecue. Then, when you put sawdust on the floor to pick up the grease you dropped and a sign announcing the slippery conditions, you'll gripe about how they used to give you cooked chicken for doing this.
posted by parmanparman at 12:20 PM on December 3, 2007

This is very common. I inspect warehouses and see differing practices that are similar. I would ask this: how many accidents have there been in the past year? If the answer is "more than one" I completely understand their logic. The types of injuries in a warehouse environment are generally more severe and cost more than an "all you can eat BBQ". I say that it is valid.
posted by zerobyproxy at 12:25 PM on December 3, 2007

It can seem weird, but the intention is to make you think about workplace safety intensely for a short period of time. It's easier to focus on 12 individual 30-day periods than it is to think about something for a single year.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 12:31 PM on December 3, 2007

Some businesses find that work safety incentive programs are effective in curtailing quasi-fraudulent injury reporting, particularly where there are unusual patterns of hard-to-diagnose injuries like muscle strains, and no identifiable poor practices or equipment shortcomings. There is sometimes a subtle component of group psychology to patterns of industrial injury, that takes a change in group dynamic to overcome.
posted by paulsc at 12:34 PM on December 3, 2007

I'm no warehouse inspector, but I don't quite agree with zero by proxy. If the most common injuries in your workplace were bloody stump ones mentioned by greg nog, I'd completely agree, as those are harder to hide, and less likely to solicit a "walk it off" response from others, in my experience. But it sounds like most of the injuries where you work are the non-bloody, usually muscle/ligament/joint type. Again, I haven't visited dozens and dozens of high injury workplaces (or any for that matter), but if my experience as a guy is usual, it seems quite possible for a serious problem to be downplayed by everyone else, and for the injured to be told to walk it off, or that they're a whiner if they report it.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 12:36 PM on December 3, 2007

My dad (chemical engineer) worked at a plant in Saudi Arabia that had gifts for the staff for each million man hours without a "lost time" injury - so getting a paper cut wasn't considered as a reason to reset the clock, but getting mangled / burnt / etc would be reason.

The program was ended when the safety record was highly impressive (I recall seeing "five million man hours" gifts and the like).

So: with appropriate balance, an effective motivational tool.
posted by lowlife at 1:18 PM on December 3, 2007

I've been to lots of industrial work sites that track hours without an injury and reward workers when they get to various goals. Obviously fraud is bad and illegal, but depending on the workplace this can work as a good, honest motivator.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:30 PM on December 3, 2007

If I read your post correctly - a physically demanding industrial environment - this doesnt sound amiss at all. Workplace injuries costs companies boatloads of time and money. I've worked for mines before (gold/silver mines - the big ones) where injuries arent twisted ankles, they're being crushed by a 200 ton haul loader, or electrocuted, or losing a whole arm, and there are full-on parties every quarter that no-one dies. Its that important. I say be careful and enjoy your BBQ.
posted by elendil71 at 2:01 PM on December 3, 2007

Good motivator. It wouldn't hide any major injuries, and most employees (in my Fortune 500 manufacturing company) would laugh at the idea of not reporting a potentially compensable injury just to get a barbeque.
posted by pardonyou? at 2:15 PM on December 3, 2007

Harmless, my workplace had a get $5 gift certificate every month, get $25 every 6 mos, get $100 every 12 mos plan in place. Unfortunately my location stopped getting it after the 2nd year of getting $100. Corporate said it was because we obviously didn't need any motivation to not get hurt. Then a fryer slipped and put her arm in the oil, a dude strained his back, someone cut themselves with a boxcutter...and so on.

The biggest deterrent to having people report injuries is this: post-accident drug test. I have had to discharge 3 people in as many years because they came to me to say they had an injury and as we started filling out the paperwork we would get to the part where they have to consent to a drug test and wow they suddenly got better and don't need to see a doctor. Unfortunately at that point it's take the test or be let go.

It's become somewhat of a joke, someone whines a little bit about a sore back or finger or something and someone else waves a specimen cup at them.
posted by M Edward at 2:50 PM on December 3, 2007

"most employees (in my Fortune 500 manufacturing company) would laugh at the idea of not reporting a potentially compensable injury just to get a barbeque."

That's spot-on, I think. It seems to me that anyone with an injury of any reasonable magnitude would not trade their benefits for a free lunch. It likewise seems that the other employees would be smart enough to recognize that peer pressure not to report injuries in exchange for a free lunch only hurts them all in the long term.

I think the company still expects injuries to be reported, and believes that this is a way to focus attention on safety.
posted by AgentRocket at 3:19 PM on December 3, 2007

most employees (in my Fortune 500 manufacturing company) would laugh at the idea of not reporting a potentially compensable injury just to get a barbecue.

Yes but would you like to be the one responsible for keeping 500 other people from getting a barbecue? Peer pressure of this type is an entirely inappropriate safety incentive program. Such programs should directly reward individuals, for example, by giving a cash reward or a day off, not use peer pressure by only rewarding groups.

OSHA is every much concerned about incentive safety programs. Their studies have shown that results of such programs do not demonstrate much reduction in workplace accidents and in some cases, over time, then tend to increase them. This is because some companies substitute incentive programs for more comprehensive safety programs such as rigorously enforcing the use of personal safety equipment or safeguards on machinery. In other words, its cheaper to bribe employees to be more careful around dangerous equipment than to actually make the equipment safer.

Studies have also shown a propensity for both employees and supervisors to under-report accidents and injuries when incentive programs are in place.

When workers are discouraged from reporting work-related injuries and illnesses, they may not receive early diagnosis and treatment which make their ailments worse. These incentives do nothing to remove workplace hazards. A better incentive program would reward the reporting of or suggested changes for hazardous conditions.
posted by JackFlash at 5:14 PM on December 3, 2007

I used to have a job where I reported all of the on-the-job injuries to the insurance company. Almost all of the injuries were totally preventable and usually happened because someone was careless, fooling around or not properly trained on some equipment.

I think that an incentive like this might help people be more careful, but it also would result in lower worker's compensation insurance fees for the company.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:44 PM on December 3, 2007

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