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OSHA GUIDELINES PUT A DAMPER ON EMPLOYEE SAFETY INCENTIVE PROGRAMS

Jul 2012 , Vol. VI, No.1

Authored by Jennifer Eaton

In March, OSHA issued a memorandum that discussed acceptable and unacceptable safety incentive programs. OSHA affirms that employers are not allowed to intentionally or unintentionally provide incentives to employees to not report injuries. OSHA identifies positive incentive programs that are allowed. These positive incentive programs include: giving t-shirts to employees, offering “modest” rewards for suggesting ways to improve safety and health in the workplace, and holding a party at the completion of a company-wide safety program. Programs that are not allowed, also called disincentive programs, include: programs that focus on the number of injuries, awarding paid time off to the unit with the largest reduction in incidents, entering employees that have not been injured into a drawing, throwing a pizza party for a meeting an injury/rate reduction goal.

OSHA suggests that even though something may be “well-intentioned,” like a pizza party, it can still discourage employees from reporting.  Further, OSHA believes that monetary safety incentive programs, in particular, create an incentive for employees not to report claims. OSHA states the test is that “if the incentive is great enough that its loss dissuades reasonable workers from reporting injuries” then the incentive is not permitted. Thus, companies that offer yearly bonuses to employees that do not have a reported injury are likely participating in a disincentive program that OSHA would not allow.

Based on this information, many builders and contractors may need to change their safety incentive programs.  Instead of monetary incentives, a company could issue a safety award to any employee that suggests a safety idea that will benefit the company. OSHA would classify this award as an acceptable positive incentive because it encourages worker involvement in the company’s safety system.

If a company wants to make sure it abides by the OSHA guidelines then the company should modify its safety incentive programs according to the OSHA guidelines. If the company decides to keep a non-conforming policy in place then it runs the risk of OSHA finding a violation for discouraging reporting of accidents.

Authored by Jennifer Easton, these articles are meant to bring awareness to these topics and are not intended to be used as legal advice.  For more information, contact Mike Sterling or Bill Franczek at 757-446-8600. Visit www.vanblk.com, for our library of Construction Law Tips.  Suggestions for a topic? E-mail bfranczek@vanblk.com

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