Worth Their While

VEHICLE ACCIDENTS AND EMPLOYEE INJURIES negatively impact a company's bottom line through higher insurance rates and other costs not covered by insurance, such as deductibles, downtime, replacement worker expenses and reduced efficiency. Hence, companies in the waste industry always are looking for ways to improve safety.

While a safety incentive program is not a magic bullet that will eliminate all accidents and injuries, it can be an important part of a waste company's overall safety efforts. An incentive program works best when other elements of a safety program already are in place. The elements include, but are not limited to, quality employee hiring/screening procedures, formal training for new employees, enforced safety polices and work rules, a strong employee supervision program, regular safety education for all employees and a good vehicle/equipment maintenance program.

Just as no two companies are alike, no one incentive program structure works best for every waste firm. In reality, the best programs usually are designed in-house to meet a company's specific needs. However, the following are some general guidelines to follow.

Keep the Earning Periods Short

The “earning period” is the length of time an employee must go without having an accident or injury to receive the incentive. While the actual payout of the safety bonus may be on an annual or semiannual basis, the earning period should be no longer than one quarter (three months). Month-long periods are better. Avoid an earning period that covers the entire calendar year, as an employee who has an accident/injury in January has no incentive for the next 11 months.

Keep It about Safety

The criteria for an employee or driver to earn the incentive should relate only to safety performance. The best incentive programs keep it simple. To earn an incentive, an employee/driver must avoid preventable accidents or lost-time injuries during the earning period. Companies can avoid diluting their safety incentive programs by excluding such criteria as attendance, tardiness, vehicle cleanliness or “attitude.” Those items are better addressed as part of a performance review.

Keep It Fair

The rules of the program and the criteria for earning the incentive need to be in writing and should be clearly communicated to all employees. This written communication should include what constitutes a “lost-time injury” or a “preventable vehicle accident.” Furthermore, the company should have a fair method of determining which vehicle accidents are preventable. Some companies create an accident review committee (consisting of representatives from management, the safety director, drivers, helpers, yard workers and mechanics) to determine preventability.

Keep Peer Pressure in Mind

Studies have shown that peer pressure can be a powerful tool in motivating employees to engage in safe behavior. Some companies break their employees into teams or use existing company divisions to foster a team environment and take advantage of peer pressure. If one of the team members has a lost-time injury or a preventable vehicle accident, then that person would not be eligible to earn the incentive. Furthermore, the rest of the team would have any incentive they receive reduced.

Keep a Handle on It

Employees who purposely fail to report accidents or injuries, for fear of losing the incentive for the current earning period, should automatically lose the right to any incentive for at least the next three earning periods, and the employer should consider other disciplinary action.

Keep an Eye on the Bottom Line

The purpose of any safety incentive program is to improve a waste company's bottom line by reducing the costs of accidents and injuries. When done right, the program should be a cost savings and not an extra expense. Some companies calculate what accidents and injuries normally cost them for a specific time frame, and will pay safety incentives only if the expected costs are reduced.
Bruce Hooker,
R.F. Mattei & Associates of CA Insurance Service,
Sacramento, Calif.