Safety Blog Post

Safety Recognition Programs That Work

Steve Geigle of OSHAcademy Safety & Health Training


Find out why most safety recognition programs fail. Steve Geigle, an OSHA trainer for 16 years, gives tips how to build a successful program that tracks leading indicators (near misses), not lagging indicators (accidents and injuries).

He offers the 15 S’s you need to implement your own program. Steve now owns OSHAcademy Safety & Health Training, with online training. Scoll down for a link to his website.

Interview Transcript

Brandon Nys: Welcome to Safety Experts Talk. Visit our website at CreativeSafetySupply.com/podcast.
Introduction music
Steve Geigle: The more money you’re spending on a recognition program, the less effective it’s going to be.
Dan Clark: So, you want to start a safety recognition program. Do it right, or you could make things worse!
Hi there. I’m Dan Clark. Today we’re talking with Steve Geigle, the founder of OSHAcademy Safety and Health Training, and former trainer for OSHA. Hello, Steve.
Steve: Hi, how are you doing?
Dan: I’m doing well. Thanks for being with us. You’ve done safety recognition programs before for OSHA. How long did you work there?
Steve: About 16 years.
Dan: Ahh! Then, you really know the business.
Steve: Well, (laughs) I wouldn’t say that I really know the business, but I know the business and I know a little bit about safety and my passion is the psychology of safety, and leadership and management, more so than the actual technical side of OSHA or the rules, which are fun, but you can always read the OSHA rules anywhere.
Dan: And you’ve taken this experience to begin your own online training service—OSHA Academy Safety And Health Training—and you’ve got a couple of web addresses. One is OSHAcademy.com. Or the other is what?
Steve: OSHAtrain.org
Dan: Okay good. Two ways to get to your site. Well, let’s talk about safety recognition programs. Now, I understand that one of the big reasons that they fail is because employees try to fix the numbers. They don’t actually report accidents because it will affect their record. Is that right?
Steve: You bet. In fact that’s most common type of recognition program that you’ll see. The employer is actually measuring lagging indicators.
Dan: Mm-hm
Steve: Instead of the leading indicators, and especially the number of recordable incidents or accidents in a particular workplace.
Dan: Mm-hm
Steve: And this is almost a death knell to a safety recognition program. It’s going to cause employees not to report injuries because they don’t want to let their department, or the section down.
Dan: Mm-hm
Steve: Ah, they don’t want to let their fellow coworkers down. And so, rather than report an injury or an accident, they’ll just put it under the rug, so to speak. In one case, there was this fellow at a company and, ah, I was doing a training session one time for Oregon OSHA, and he was from Washington and he came in—or she came in—and said that her son actually got his finger cut off at work. Amputated his finger and did not report that because he was afraid he was going ruin the safety statistics…
Dan: (gasp)
Steve: …for the, the section. So, he didn’t report it. And so, of course, I had the same reaction. And I told her “Well, you better go back. You better talk to him. You better get this straightened out because it’s totally unsatisfactory for something like that happen.”
And, ah, you can see how much pressure there is for employees not to report the injuries that they might receive because the employer is measuring the number of injuries. And what’s the message there when the employer wants to measure that—the number of injuries? The message is what really matters is the number of accidents we have. It’s not the number of reports we have, which, I think, is far more important. If you measure the number of reports of, ah, near misses, now that’s a leading indicator because you haven’t had your accident.
Dan: Mm-hm
Steve: So, that’s a report of a behavior or a condition before the accident happens. It’s proactive. Far more important than, ah, keeping track of the number of accidents you have a particular section. And when somebody reports, ah, a near miss or ah, a hazard in the workplace—every time any employee reports a near miss or a hazard—they should be recognized by their supervisor and in some cases the company. Because they’re saving not only lives and the employees from potential injuries or death, but they’re saving the company a ton of money.
Dan: Right.
Steve: So, it’s really important that they do that.
Dan: Does it matter whether the incentive is something like time off, or a cash reward? Will workers, no matter what, still underreport?
Steve: Well, they’ll have a tendency to underreport. Once again, if they consider the recognition or reward to be significant,
Dan: Mm-hm.
Steve: or important…
Dan: Right.
Steve: …then they’re not going to report that because, once again, they don’t want to let themselves down, their coworkers down, the section down, the company down. They don’t be one of these bad players that ruined it for everyone else.
Dan: Mm-hm. Well, let’s talk about the cost of the safety recognition program. Do accidents and injuries go down in relation to the amount of money spent on a program?
Steve: Well, first of all, the best program’s not a program. Whoa. What’s that all about? Well, recognition is a function of leadership, not management. Leadership is a relationship skill. Management is an organizational skill. So, if your supervisors and managers understand that, they’ll do things to help establish a positive working relationship with their workers. And, so, recognition is one of the best ways you can do that.
You don’t have to spend a penny and your employees will love ya. Okay? Because, you’re a tough, caring leader and they know you’re tough on safety, you have high standards, but they know that you care about them. And you’ll recognize them when they do something right. And they’ll also be disciplined, potentially, if they don’t do something right. So, that’s important.
Most companies do believe that they need to have a program, of course. My belief is that the more money you’re spending on a recognition program, the more managed it is, the less effective it’s going to be. If they’re going to spend money, spend the money on training the supervisors and managers how to be leaders. How to be safety leaders. On how to recognize people in the workplace.
Safety_Recognition_Programs_That_Work-Creative_Safety_Supply-250Dan: And I love what you came up with, a real positive program. I guess it’s a program, it’s—what do you call it, 15 S’s for safety recognition? Is that what it is?
Steve: I like to think of these as 15 rules, or secrets, or principles, so…
Dan: And they all start with S.
Steve: You bet.
Dan: Well, let’s get right to it. 15 S’s for safety recognition, and the first one, #1, is speed.
Steve: Speed really is all about recognizing people in a timely manner. Don’t wait for the next quarterly meeting. Don’t wait for the annual meeting. Recognize them on the spot, if you can. As soon as you see somebody doing something that is significant, is helping the company, recognize them somehow.
Dan: So, no politics. Well, that’s good.
Steve: Yeah, no politics.
Dan: #2, Spontaneity.
Steve: Spontaneity. Well, again, that kind of goes along with speed too. On the spot. Spontaneity. Be spontaneous. Don’t the think about it. Don’t put any management or organization into it, necessarily. It can be, ah, just right on the spot. Just spontaneous, and that’s great, because, in terms of being perceived as something that’s genuine, that’s going to be more genuine if it is spontaneous.
Dan: Right. #3, Sincerity.
Steve: Sincerity. Well, if there are no politics involved, if you come across as being sincere, it’s going to be much, much more valuable to the employee as a form of recognition. Even if, ah, you’re not giving them anything, a sincere thank you. And that’s really, sometimes, that’s all has to be is a sincere “thank you” for doing great job. I really appreciate it. That’s all it needs to be.
Dan: #4, Spirit.
Steve: Spirit. Be excited. Be happy about the fact that they’ve done something wonderful. Come across emotionally. Don’t try to be stoic, or anything. You don’t need to be. Be spirited, be happy about it. Your recognition will be more powerful doing that.
Dan: Okay. #5, Subtleness.
Steve: Subtleness well that’s going to be important too. You don’t necessarily want to recognize people in public because many, many people—in fact, most people—don’t want to be recognized in public.
Dan: Oh!
Steve: They don’t want a lot of fanfare. It’s embarrassing to some people, so you’ve got to be careful about that. So, being subtle in their office. In fact, studies have indicated that when you recognize people in private, it actually is more powerful, more effective than recognizing people in public.
Dan: Great. #6, Selflessness.
Steve: Selflessness. You’re not recognizing someone to make yourself look good, or to make the company look good.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Steve: You’re recognizing people to make them look good. The fact that you appreciate them. It’s all about the employee. It’s not about you, as a supervisor. You’re not recognizing somebody and saying “Gee. Look at me. I’m great. I’m recognizing somebody, therefore I’m great.” That’s really not the purpose of recognition.
Dan: Sure, I understand. #7 is Sureness. Now, is, is that a word?
Steve: Sureness. Well, I looked it up. It’s a word. (laughs)
Dan: (laughs)
Steve: Employees need to know that if they achieve certain levels of performance, they meet criteria for being recognized, they’re going to be recognized. And they’re going to be recognized in a timely manner. They’re not going to be recognized next year. Ah, I remember one company I worked with for a number years and it was policy that if you work for them for a number of years you would receive recognition. Well, I got a little letter. I got a little pen. The problem was it was six month late.
Dan: (laughs)
Steve: So, it really didn’t have a lot of meaning. And it was a, a matter of policy, okay. It didn’t come from the heart, it came from the head. It wasn’t leadership, so didn’t have a lot of meaning to me.
Dan: Because it was just an alert that went off in some bureaucrat’s computer…
Steve: Yeah.
Dan: …saying that you deserved an award. Wow. #8, Simplicity.
Steve: Keep it simple, make it fun! That goes along with that spirit. That is something that’s very, very important. You don’t have to have a complicated, big ceremony with lots of fanfare. You keep it simple, and it’ll have just as much meaning to the employee as something that’s a lot of fanfare to it. Just as meaningful.
Dan: #9, Specificity.
Steve: You want to recognize employees for one particular thing that they’ve done.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Steve: Not something that’s generic or really, really general, like “They’ve been a great guy for this quarter.” You want to really pinpoint what they’ve done and how that has benefited the company.
Dan: Well, that’s good. Well, #10 is confusing to me. Singleness.
Steve: Singleness. You want to recognize single individuals. Now, if you have a lot of people in a group, you want to recognize each and every one of those individuals, ah, with a handshake, with what they particularly did as an individual.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Steve: You don’t say “This team was wonderful, the team is great” because that, kind of, dilutes the effectiveness of the recognition for each of the people.
Dan: Defeats the purpose of it.
Steve: Yeah. Really pinpoint that. Point to a certain person when you’re recognizing them.
Dan: And more on the 15 S’s of a good safety recognition program. #11, Standards.
Steve: Standards. Well, once again, recognition should be criterion based. It should not be based upon being first, best, most improved, or being lucky. These are the death knell to recognition programs, and once again, most recognition programs are based upon that.
You don’t want employee of the month. You don’t want employee of the quarter. You don’t want employee of the year because that creates one winner and many losers. And, of course, all those losers really don’t appreciate that very much.
Dan: Right.
Steve: So, you want to have a recognition program that recognizes and rewards everyone who has achieved a certain level of performance—safety performance. And, we’re not talking about not having an accident.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Steve: What we’re talking about may be reporting injuries and working safely, and all that. The leading indicators again, okay?
Dan: Not having an accident is not necessarily a sign of being safe.
Steve: That’s right!
Dan: It’s a sign of being lucky.
Steve: Yeah, in many cases.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Steve: Severity is a function of luck. When you do have an accident.
Dan: #12,
Steve: Mm-hm.
Dan: Significant.
Steve: Okay, that… Significant is very important because it’s not the person who is doing the recognition that determines what is significant and what is not significant.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Steve: It is the person receiving the recognition.
Dan: Oh.
Steve: So, it can be a pen… might be significant to one person and just worthless to another person like me.
Dan: Uh-huh.
Steve: What works for me is food. Pizza’s great. That’s great recognition. So (laughs) but it’s really up to the person to determine what is perceived as being a significant recognition, not the person giving the recognition. That’s really important.
Dan: So you really have to get to know your employees.
Steve: Mm-hm.
Dan: You have to know them to be able to know what’s important to them.
Steve: Absolutely.
Dan: #13, Selection.
Steve: Selection. Uh, this kind goes along, okay, with the previous one.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Steve: If you’re giving tangible rewards, then you want to give them the ability to choose from a number of rewards. Some people might choose a gift certificate to a restaurant. It might be money. It might be a mug. But give them a selection so that they can choose, because they’re automatically going to choose the gift or the reward that is most valuable to them.
Dan: Chocolate.
Steve: Chocolate! (laughs) That works for me.
Dan: That’s not on here because it doesn’t start with S.
Steve: (laughs)
Dan: #14 is Stability.
Steve: Stability means you don’t want to change the rules of the game all the time.
Dan: Ahh!
Steve: Ah, it’s very important. And once again, and when you get into politics, that happens. Some places will have rules of the game where it has to be boy-girl-boy-girl. You can recognize a boy this time, but it has to be a girl next time. This department in January, can’t be the same department twice in a row.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Steve: Whatever you do, whatever kind of rules you have, or policies you have in your recognition program, you don’t want to change them very often.
Dan: Right.
Steve: Annually you might change the rules just a little bit, change the criteria just a little bit.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Steve: But you want it to be stable so that employees are sure they know what the criteria is, and that they’re going to get the rewards once they achieve that criteria.
Dan: So it has credibility.
Steve: Absolutely.
Dan: And the last one is, #15, Sensibility.
Steve: You have to be sensitive to the wishes of the person receiving the recognition. I had a lady in class, and she told me that she did a great job as a safety committee chairperson. At the end of the year they recognized her with a reward, and big fanfare, and a public ceremony. She said she’ll never be on a safety committee again because she was absolutely horrified at being recognized in public.
Dan: Ah.
Steve: You really need to ask the person “Is it okay if we recognize you in public or would you rather be recognized in private?” And almost invariably they’ll say “Recognize me in private. I don’t want, or I don’t need public recognition like that.”
Dan: Well, yeah it appeals to some people’s vanity, but others…no.
Steve: Absolutely.
Dan: Now that’s the end of 15 S’s, but you have a #16 here what is this #16?
Steve: Shake hands! Starts with the letter S. Shake hands. Make sure that you’ve shaken the hand of the person because it uses another sense.
Dan: Ohh.
Steve: You’ve got sound. You’ve got sight. But then you want touch also.
Dan: Mm-hm.
Steve: All of these. You want to use as many… and, of course, I like food—like I say—so that works for me too.
Dan: (laughs)
Steve: Use as many senses as you can because, again, the recognition will be more powerful. When you shake the person’s hand, a good firm handshake, it’s just reinforcing the message that you really appreciate what they’re doing, and what they’ve done.
Dan: Alright. Well, that’s 15 + 1. 16 S’s on safety recognition programs. Well, Steve, look at this, we’re almost out of time. Do you have any final advice for a first-time safety manager trying to start a safety recognition program?
Steve: Well, they should take, ah, OSHAcademy course 700 or 712 on supervision, and that’ll give them some more information on recognition programs and how to start one. The first thing I think of when you asked that question is: You start with yourself, as a safety manager. Start recognizing people using the 16 different principles I have there, or rules. And then teach others how to do that on the operational side of the company. Teach supervisors and managers, because it’s even more important for them to be doing the recognition.
If the only person recognizing for safety is the safety manager, the safety management system’s flawed, because it should be the supervisors and managers. Teach them how to do that within a certain period of time, you’ll have a great program going. And that’s going to affect every other program you have in your safety management system and your corporate management system also.
Dan: It’s infectious.
Steve: Absolutely.
Dan: And so you have safety recognition training on your website?
Steve: Well, most of our courses deal with general industry. But what makes us unique is that we have programs for managers, supervisors, safety specialists, trainers, safety committee chairpersons, and members in general industry. To achieve these certificates, you have to take a certain number of courses. For instance, our safety professional course is 132 hours and you have to take 25 courses to get that certificate. So many, many students go for that certificate because it really helps them in their career advancement.
Dan: Wow, this is, this is really great Steve. And the training is free.
Steve: You bet.
Dan: And there is a fee if you want the credential that goes with it.
Steve: Yeah.
Dan: And what are the web addresses again?
Steve: It’s OSHAtrain.org or OSHAcademy.com and, like you mentioned earlier, it’s try before you buy (laughs).
Dan: Try before you buy. Well, thanks, Steve, for being our guest today.
Steve: You bet.
Dan: Today we’ve been talking with Steve Geigle, the founder of OSHAcademy Safety And Health Training, and former trainer for OSHA, Oregon. I’m Dan Clark.
(Outro Music with Voiceover)
Brandon: Thank you for joining us on Safety Experts Talk. If you have suggestions for future podcasts, send them to podcast@creativesafetysupply.com. For more safety experts talking about safety news, OSHA regulations, PPE, lean, 5S, or Continuous Improvement, go to CreativeSafetySupply.com/podcast.
handshake image – FEMA-Adam DuBrowa 2009
sound effects by www.freesfx.co.uk

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