Beyond the Zero Incident Policy: Four Tips for Improving Workplace Safety
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Beyond the Zero Incident Policy: Four Tips for Improving Workplace Safety


Accidents can happen at the drop of a hat. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 4,836 fatal workplace injuries in 2015 – the highest number since 2008.

All employers are required by federal law to provide a safe workplace for their employees. But not every company approaches safety the same way. Some may view safety as an important part of productivity –when accidents occur, time and productivity is lost. Other companies may see safety as just another regulation – something that a few signs and training sessions will take care of.

Companies should not only care for their workers, but truly bake safety into their culture.

Shifting Away from Zero Incidence Policies

In the past – and even now – companies were quick to implement a Zero Incidence Policy. The foundation of a Zero Incidence Policy is the belief that if safety goals are not set to zero, employees may come to believe that a certain number of incidents is acceptable.

So why are some companies beginning to shift away from a Zero Incidence Policy?

Well, for starters it’s hard to measure. Setting safety goals at zero injuries doesn’t provide a viable benchmark for safety, plus it’s unrealistic. Just because a company reports zero incidents, does that really mean that all of the employees are exhibiting safe behaviors in the workplace? Not necessarily. It just means that none of the unsafe behaviors resulted in an incident, or rather, none of the unsafe behaviors resulted in an incident being reported, which brings us to the next point.

Underreporting or failing to report an incident is a common flaw to the Zero Incidence Policy. Especially for companies that have implemented employee reward programs for having zero monthly or yearly incidents. These types of reward programs, particularly team-focused ones, are the main culprits for underreporting since they encourage employees to avoid reporting incidents for the fear of missing out on a bonus or incentive.

In addition to being unethical, underreporting also fails to acknowledge the bigger issue – that there is a safety problem. By constantly “slipping incidents under the rug,” companies miss out on opportunities to improve safe processes and procedures, thus risking a repeat incident down the line.

Safety as Part of the Company Culture

OSHA recommends companies celebrate employees that demonstrate safe behaviors, as opposed to rewarding employees for zero incidents.

That’s why companies have started to move beyond the Zero Incidence Policy – into a more behavior-based safety approach. This type of safety approach encourages positive reinforcement for those who demonstrate safe work practices.

Instead of incentivizing employees to keep safety incidents below a certain number, in a behavior-based safety approach employees are rewarded for participating in safe behaviors, such as providing suggestions to improve processes, helping a coworker with a safe operating procedure or recognizing and troubleshooting potential hazardous situations. Rewarding employees based on their safe behaviors instills safety as part of the company culture, instead of something to be feared in the event an incident actually does occur.

Though it seems pretty straightforward, a behavior-based safety approach is not completely foolproof. Like all big company changes, if it’s not well planned and managed, you’ll have a hard time getting employees on board.

So, where does a company begin? Here are four tips for implementing a behavior-based safety approach:

  1. A behavior-based safety approach needs to start at the top. It’s a mindset that needs to be encouraged by top executives so that it can be truly embraced by all employees. Start by having a kick-off meeting with your top executives. Get their buy-in so they can be safety advocates for each of their teams.
  2. Next comes strategy. Instead of setting safety goals, think about the processes and procedures that are already in place. Do they comply with OSHA guidelines and NFPA 70E standards? Can they be improved? Is there anything that should be added? Start by reviewing and updating any existing training and safety policies. Make sure all safety information is clearly available and understandable to all employees – regardless of their job title.
  3. Once you’ve addressed the procedural issues, you’ll want to start regularly communicating safety tips to employees. Kick things off with quick safety training sessions that bring everyone together and gets them started on the same page. The key to tips and training sessions is to do them in small bites. This can make the information easily digestible for employees and the frequency keeps safety top-of-mind. One idea is to host weekly safety events such as #FireCodeFridays to cover different electrical safety topics.
  4. Finally, you’ll want to reward employees for demonstrating safe behaviors. You may choose to establish a monthly safety award, where you acknowledge one employee every month for exhibiting outstanding safety practices. Be sure to recognize employees in a timely manner and in front of other employees to encourage others to follow suit.

There are many different ways companies can approach workplace safety and instill it into the culture. What strategy does your company follow?