The functioning of the construction industry in the United States of America is known to have tremendously impacted the country’s economy. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis has found that the construction industry that deals with constructed related businesses that involve materials manufacturing equipment, supply, and designing, provides for almost 14 per cent of the gross domestic product in the country, thus making it the biggest manufacturing industry. However the construction industry has mostly achieved such performance levels by inflicting enormous costs to the health and safety of construction workers. As per the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics that conducted research in this regard, there are about 7.2 workers per 100 in the industry that have been suffering from work-related injuries or illnesses during the last few years.
Further, it is also known that the total number of fatal accidents in private construction companies during 2003 was 1220, which accounts for almost 20 per cent of all work-related fatalities in the country. After the establishment of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the level of worker safety in most American industries has improved, which has resulted because of efforts made by industries in terms of adoption of safety techniques, improvement in working methods and enhanced training and adoption of processes whereby accidents are now being investigated thoroughly. Other methods used by construction companies to improve safety are the provision of safety incentives. However, there have been significant numbers of debates in challenging the credibility of incentives in improving safety measures and other performance measures in the construction industry. More specifically, a lot of concern has been raised about the practicality of incentives in providing for measurable long-term improvements.
According to Stewart (2005), construction and manufacturing companies are now looking for new alternatives in keeping the workers safe. These companies have to adhere to stringent state and federal regulations as provided by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as well as complying with controls established by the International Standards Organization (ISO). Some industries have a difficult time in making workers realize the importance of safety at work. It is also known in this context that minor injuries such as muscle strains and cuts can prove to be very costly to companies in terms of loss of production, loss of time, medical expenses and workers compensation, which can amount to thousands of dollars per worker. As per calculations made by Safety Pays, which is the injury cost calculation tool of OSHA, injuries such as muscle strains and lacerations can cost up to $13080 and $6050 respectively, while serious injuries such as carpal tunnels can cost up to $18,270. Recent patterns have indicated that one of the major ways in which construction companies try to improve safety at the workplace is by using safety incentive programs.
However, most theorists believe that the effect of rewards and incentives are a little unclear. It is true that incentives tend to make workers feel good and can also be considered as bringing no harm to them or to the organization but they are extremely damaging in terms of long term performance of the organization. If one considers the amount of efforts that are required to introduce and effectively implement safety incentive programs, given the extreme uncertainty in the context of returns on investments, it does imply that a better economic decision will be to provide resources towards activities that are not ambiguous. In fact such programs should have positive impact on safety performances. Safety incentive programs must be implemented in situations when there is no other economically and high impact actions remaining to be introduced by the firm in question.
Workplace accidents are known to pose severe problems for workers and for firms in terms of complications and disadvantages but at the same time employers are well-placed to prevent most of the accidents by using different preventive strategies in the working environment. Given that some people are prone to accidents, organizations need to know what the rates of injuries are by screening out such applicants when they make job applications. Research has concluded in this regard that workers with specific personality traits have higher chances than others to get injured in industrial accidents. For instance, researchers have found that people that frequently experience higher rates of industrial accidents are mostly those that are rebellious and impulsive and that most of such people blame the organizational practices or other factors instead of themselves for the occurrence of such accidents.
Worker safety incentive programs have been successful in a number of situations. However there are specific problems that have to be faced while implementing worker safety incentive programs. Sometimes workers become over anxious to win the given incentive rewards and start concealing the injuries sustained by them and refrain from reporting them to the management. When such injuries are not reported, it is understood that workers have surrendered their right for workers compensation while the organization remains unaware of the safety issues. Secondly, workers could continue performing in risky environments and start taking shortcuts because they are not convinced that such behaviors are actually leading to larger number of accidents. However such workers realize too late that they have been adopting wrong procedures because their unsafe working habits become the main cause of injuries and accidents.
It has been claimed by many that after the introduction of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the safety environment has improved in US construction industries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has claimed that since the inception of OSHA, the numbers of fatal accidents in the construction industry have declined by almost half. Such positive results have been made possible because of the adoption of safety incentives and other safety measures introduced under provision of OSHA. However safety incentive programs have also attracted a great deal of controversy during the last few years. It is believed by many that the incentives create motivation for workers to remain safe while others have argued that such incentives are more in the form of bribery whereby workers are influenced in not reporting injuries. Obviously, the cost of such arrangements can be very high and may not prove to be worth it. The objective of this paper is to ascertain the extent to which worker safety incentive programs are effective in promoting real safety on construction jobs sites in the United States of America. A detailed analysis will be made of the incentive programs used by companies in order to determine whether they are cost-effective and whether they result in reducing injuries to workers.
The cost of safety-related problems to the construction industry can never be over-estimated. In fact, research studies routinely under-estimate actual costs of accidents and worker injuries to the industry. In order to arrest the continued escalation of this cost, construction firms utilize varieties of incentives for their employees to minimize incidents of safety-related problems on job sites. The question is: are these incentive programs serving the purpose for which they were put in place? Are they motivating workers to behave in a manner that promotes decrease in safety related incidents on construction job sites? Safety incentive programs are now becoming increasingly popular amongst industries although they are quite controversial. Those that are in favor of safety incentive programs assert that they assist in motivating workers to remain safe at the workplace.
Those that argue against safety incentive programs hold that they are used in bribing workers so that they do not report injuries. It is also known that such programs are very costly and depending upon conceptions of different individuals the cost may not be considered as worth it. Issues that arise in this context are whether safety incentive programs pressurize employees to underreport injuries and what kind of repercussions such programs has on the cost of workers compensation. If a given safety incentive program delivers positive results the company in question should be able to see positive results in terms of workers compensation cost, lost time injuries and the rates of incidents and seriousness of mishaps at the workplace. The savings in monetary terms from such parameters must be higher than the cost of the incentive programs. There are instances when the injuries are hidden, which does not reflect the true picture of a bigger issue that may be present in the industry. If such a position is present in an industry it is evident that the extent of injuries would be actually more severe than what has been reported.
Goals, Purpose and Potential Significance of the Research
The research goal is to establish a positive relationship between worker safety incentive programs and job site safety real-time improvement and to encourage construction firms to adopt the incentive programs so that job site safety related incidents will continue to decrease. The purpose of this research is to determine if worker incentive programs instituted by some major construction companies are effective in improving job site safety. That is to determine the statistical correlation coefficient in the relationship between incentive program as independent variable and improved jobsite safety as dependent variable. The potential significance of achieving my research goal stated above is that the annual cost of safety related jobsite incidents will be reversed and spiral downwards rather than upwards as is currently the trend.
The objective of this research is to ascertain if the safety incentive programs used by industries are cost-effective and if they are actually resulting in the reduction of injuries at the workplace. The research will examine various programs used by different companies, which will then be compared in order to ascertain their efficiency. The research will also examine how every program is devised and implemented and then ascertain the extent to which individual programs are fruitful. The result is very important because it will assist companies in determining whether safety incentive programs are actually cost-effective and valuable for companies that implement them. The methodology will look into annual standardized costs of incentive programs. The yearly cost of workers compensation, excluding premium will be examined to ascertain if the safety incentive programs have resulted in a reduction of such costs over time. The rate of incidents, their severity and lost time cases will be considered under provision of OSHA to determine if the incentive programs have been able to reduce the negative impacts. Analysis will be made of the indirect costs relating to non-reporting of injuries.
Most of the previous research efforts concerning safety incentive programs in the construction industry have been primarily based on qualitative data. Most of the assertions about safety improvements that have resulted from the use of incentives rely on anecdotal information or on specific cases relating to some companies. In fact, the overall outcomes of safety incentive programs on bigger populations have not been quantified effectively. What is not yet known in this regard is the long-term impact of safety incentive programs. Keeping this perspective in mind the research will also consider the following:
- To ascertain if the effectiveness of safety incentive programs reduces overtime.
- To ascertain whether the long-term impact of safety incentive programs impacts different performance measures.
This research has mainly examined construction companies in the United States of America and has aimed to examine the efficiency of safety performance in relation to safety incentive programs by utilizing data from primary research. It cannot be denied that safety is crucial for every industry, more specifically in the US construction industry that has been persistently suffering from an unusually high number of fatal accidents as compared to other industries in the country.
From the perspective of the literature that is available on the subject it is evident that the topic is covered under two main categories. The first category pertains to the research that has been carried out in discussing the pros and cons of providing incentive programs in the construction industry. The second category deals with looking at the actual cost of providing such incentive programs. It is known in this regard that some of the costs are quite apparent while the others may not be easily observed because they could be hidden or indirect. The main issue to consider is whether incentive programs in the construction industry are actually saving money and whether every category has been researched exhaustively in coming to conclusions in this regard.
Although laws have been designed in the USA to ensure safety at the workplace, the rates of accidents in the country’s construction companies are extremely high. As per estimates, workers are known to have lost almost 80 million workdays since 2002 because of injury sustained at the workplace while over 3.8 million people have been disabled because of injuries sustained in the workplace. The basic issue arises as to what is the reason for all these workplace injuries. Basically, the causes for such circumstances can be divided into three types; procedural insufficiencies, equipment insufficiencies and employee errors. Procedural insufficiencies include failure of procedures in eliciting and understanding warnings relating to hazards; ineffective procedures for handling of materials at the workplace; failures to avoid mishaps and inefficient management of incentive programs. Equipment insufficiencies relate to using inappropriate equipments; safety devices becoming in operational; and extreme lack of protective clothing, respiratory protections and engineering controls. Employee errors are made when there are miscalculated situations; neuromuscular malfunctioning; distraction; ineffective working environment and intentional use of defective equipments (Taylor, 2005).
Those that are in favor of incentive programs believe that incentives play a major role in building and maintaining employee interest in the context of worker safety and in acting as import motivators for workers so that they adopt more safety procedures while working (Prichard, 2001). Incentive programs are used by companies in showing their workers that they are being cared for and that they are working in a safe environment. A major objective of safety incentive programs is to introduce a practical approach towards compensation claims filed by workers. It is widely believed that recognition and rewards are proactive procedures that discourage many workers from making fraud claims. In this regard, Flanders and Goldberg (2001) have held that if an employee is injured at home, it is to his benefit to report it as an on the job injury. There are no deductibles, co-insurance or HMOs to deal with in the workers’ compensation system. Also lost work days are paid for, and there is a potential for disability payments (Flanders and Goldberg, 2001). The main reason why firms opt for implementing safety incentive programs is to reduce the cost of workers compensation in terms of OSHA recordable and lost time injuries. According to Cable (2005) many companies have been able to reduce their compensation cost from over $310,000 in 2001 to about $25,000 in 2005.
It is pertinent to mention in this regard that workers in construction companies are usually more in favor of the implementation of safety incentive programs as compared to the perceptions held by managers in many companies. Some workers in construction companies understand that safety incentive programs are characterized with some disadvantages; majority believes that there are no disadvantages associated with such programs. Most workers feel that their responsibility is to improve safety at the work place. Although the research findings do support the view that worker safety incentive programs result in improvements in work place safety, they cannot survive on their own strength alone. In fact, such programs must be a part of an all inclusive program that includes training for workers as well as their safety in the entire construction process. The research found that safety can be improved by using incentives that are part of the conventional outcome measures (Juergens, 2007).
People that are not in favor of incentive programs in the construction industry believe that it is a kind of bribery and that most industries introduce such programs when they are unable to reduce the number of accidents happening in their premises (Prichard, 2001). They believe that this is more in keeping with manipulation so that the required record in the books is complete. Incentives of this kind result only in securing temporory compliance until the time that workers realize that there is a direct relationship amongst the given job performance and rewards. In fact, workers are able to acquaint themselves with the rules and regulations of the program and adapt to situations and the systems in minimizing the change in actions while enhancing their benefits at the cost of the programs. And it has been established by human behavior research that when people are encouraged to think about the rewards they will get for performing given tasks, they will gradually perform at lower levels and lose interest in the tasks over time.
A major apprehension with safety incentive programs is the fact that a large number of injuries are not reported by workers due to several reasons. Additionally, many proponents of such programs do agree that such safety incentives lower the propensity of reporting accidental incidents if they are not managed efficiently (Miozza and Wyld, 2002). Workers often do not report injuries because they fear that other wise their colleagues will start receiving incentives. Such an environment pertaining to underreporting of incidents is usually associated with managements that are not committed to maintaining a safe working environment. This also reveals that the management is mainly interested in reducing the cost of workers compensation at the expense of worker safety and health. For incentive programs to work efficiently in the construction industry, management of companies has to become committed to the given programs (Expanding the Menu, 2006). Many companies have adopted such procedures by devising their incentive programs and requiring workers to sign agreements whereby they could lose their jobs if they do not report work related injuries (Cable, 2005).
In this context, Goodrum and Gangwar (2004) of the University of Kentucky’s College of Civil Engineering conducted a study that suggests that on an average, companies with an incentive program see improved safety results, while those that do not are more likely to experience decreased or no improvement. The study found that worker safety incentive programs caused workday incident rates to drop by 44.16% over a three-year period. Conversely, companies without incentive programs saw incident rates increase 41.84% for the same period (Goetsch, 2005). Downing and Norton (2004) found that there were other problems associated with strictly focusing upon only the reduction of rates of accidents by reducing risky behaviors, which is more of a reactive behavior than pro-active behavior. If the rates of accidents go down, many managements will have the tendency to reduce funding for such incentive programs and increase funding at such times when the problems start occurring again, thus creating a cyclical effect. If proactive and problem-solving approaches are used with the involvement of employees and management, such cyclical patterns can be entirely eliminated. Moreover, companies must have good safety programs to start with because however good safety programs may be they will not be able to make an inefficient safety program better.
The costs of worker safety incentive programs in the construction industry can be quite significant. It has been estimated that in order for companies to offset the costs of efficient incentive programs, they must ensure that there is a reduction in the compensation claims made by workers by at least 10% (Smith, 2002). It is very important to achieve such a situation because plant managers and higher management mostly give priority to profitability. Experts in the area have recommended that about 50 per cent of the savings result from the use of efficient incentive programs. In fact, the cost of such programs should be understood from the perspective of cost of promotion, cost of administration, cost of award, cost of training and education, the number of participants in the program and of other tracking procedures. After establishing the budget the management should allocate 60 to 70 per cent on awards, 10 percent on administration and not more than 10 per cent on promotion. In some companies the incentive programs comprises of lavish spending amounting to several hundreds of thousands of dollars on giving awards such as huge cash prizes, cruise holidays and cars.
Some companies arrange for extravagant parties in recognition of safety achievements that are known to cost $60,000 per party. According to Simmons (2006), who conducted research in the context of the huge expenses made by companies; many firms have been known to spend thousands of dollars every month in giving prizes such as luxury cars, plasma TVs and holiday vouchers in rewarding employees for maintaining safety standards that resulted in entirely unrecorded accidents during a given period. According to Downing and Norton (2004), the industry standard in this regard is often considered to be between one and two per cent of the workers yearly wages.
Cost of administration of such incentive schemes are considered to be quite high because of the amount of work that has to be done in order to keep the program running without hurdles. There are also some hidden costs in the context of incentive programs that are often overlooked by many companies. Workers and companies had to pay higher taxes on the awards and incentives received in this regard. Another major cost factor of incentive programs is the recurring expenses on accidental incidents arising due to failure of identifying and correcting problems. Issues can be avoided by quality managers in avoiding costs of such nonconformance. When injuries are not reported it implies that the causes of accidents are not investigated and corrected because of which work place accidents would create more severe problems in future.
Those companies in the construction industry that are serious about reducing costs or health and safety place significant importance on injury reports and data for identifying patterns and for taking proactive steps in making changes so that such instances do not occur again (Atkinson, 2000). Employers that rely on using traditional incentive programs experience reduction in their OSHA recordable although the extent of serious injuries and fatalities continues to be the same. The only significant factor was the change in terms of the decline in the incidence of less severe accidental injuries. If there are larger numbers of serious accidents occurring in the industry because of failure in identifying hazards, the cost of such laxity could be much more than what could have been possible under situations when the root cause of the hazards would have been removed or rectified.
It is known that many workers that do not report injuries straight away face a lot of difficulties in receiving workers compensation benefits, which includes both lost wages and medical costs if the injury causes more suffering or are reported subsequently (Frederick and Lessin, 2000). Such costs are later included in the cost of employee health insurance because of which workers are required to pay higher cost or shares of such facilities. If there is lesser number of claims they can result in reduced compensation costs for company managements and better benefits for workers. Some companies would use such developments as positive but the fact remains that they actually just act as masks over the problems. Companies that do not encourage the reporting of injuries are also liable to face lawsuits in the future by workers in the context of compensation for injuries that may have not been reported and later rejected by workers compensation.
If injuries are not reported, companies are liable to be fined by OSHA, which implies making attempts to send down strong messages to the effect that result-based incentive programs have to be created in ways that do not encourage workers to avoid reporting injuries. It is obvious that there are several costs related incentive programs. A great deal of effort is required to set up and effectively execute worker safety incentive programs in the construction industry. Additionally, there is a great deal of uncertainty in the context of returns on investment, which implies that it is good economic advice for companies to allocate resources in providing benefits that have a clear and positive impact on safety issues (Prichard, 2001).
A great deal has already been written about the advantages and disadvantages of worker safety incentive programs. Given that workers behavior is impacted by the prevailing events and environment in the industry, it can be significantly reinforced through positive feedback and weakened by negative results. Further, it is also known that incentives by way of rewards motivate workers and promotes a safe environment in eventually improving performance of safety measures. People that are skeptical in this regard have argued that safety incentive programs have not succeeded in providing improvement in safety standards on a consistent basis. They have questioned the initiatives undertaken through these programs because a safe working environment and the adoption of safe working practices is already known to deliver considerable intrinsic benefits to the worker, especially in construction companies. Critics have held that safety performance should not be attributed to incentives because there is clear evidence to the effect that the given improvements are reduced as compared to the original levels after the incentive programs get over.
Another apprehension expressed by critics is that most of the incentive programs do not actually result in improvement of safety but only alter the reporting systems of accidents. Such programs often encourage employees to underreport accidents that allow them to become eligible for awards instituted by companies in this regard. It is because of such circumstances that OSHA has initiated measures pertaining to underreporting of accidents, which is provided for in policies and procedures manual pertaining to the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP). OSHA has clearly provided that “The on-site evaluation [of a company’s safety incentive program] will focus on the incentive program’s potential impact on the accuracy of reporting injury and illnesses data” (OSHA, 2001).
Motivation is a crucial factor in all worker incentive programs. There is need for positive feedbacks, reinforcements and rewards and recognition, which are considered to be the four main elements of any worker safety incentive programs. Positive reinforcement refers to things that result in the required behaviors but it is the most widely misunderstood link in this regard. It can either be a small award or just simple words of praise. All humans are characterized in having certain likes and dislikes that keep changing over time, thus making reinforcements more difficult to recognize. Another significant requirement for positive reinforcement is that it must come immediately after the desired behavior, which explains why reinforcements should be a regular feature. Positive reinforcement is best made possible through interaction of peer groups. In order for such reinforcements to be effective, safety incentives should be delivered in varied kinds. In effect, efficient safety incentives have to deliver personal values that exceed dollar values. Value of incentives in terms of money is not important till the time the incentives are meaningful and reinforce workers positively. Additionally, incentives have to be provided in different ways as compared to the usual compensation offered to workers. Most of the efficient programs in this regard are dependent upon low cost gifts that have high value perceptions for workers.
According to Laitinen and Ruohmaki (2003) there are ten kinds of worker safety incentives; worker recognition, time off, ownership of stocks, specific assignments, growth opportunities, higher levels of autonomy, education and training, social events, prizes and monetary rewards. Many theorists have suggested that incentives that are given to workers before any celebrations provide them with opportunities to re-experience the events and reinforce desired behaviors. Rewards and incentives have to be specific and result in perceptions of achievement. Eventually, incentives have to be given on a long term basis instead of on the basis of short term achievements. An important consideration in this regard is the issue about which workers will be rewarded, while many theorists believe that all workers that meet the given requirements should be given rewards. This kind of arrangement provides workers with a strong sense of belongingness and they feel they are important parts of the safety initiatives.
Worker safety incentive programs have to be based on absolute principles instead of relying on competition so that unwanted rift is not created amongst workers. It is widely believed that a better option is to give rewards to several participants instead to single individuals. Similarly, groups should not be imposed with penalties for failures resulting due to individual worker’s actions. This clearly indicates that safety is an issue that is best addressed with team efforts and that individuals are not solely responsible for accidents. Instead, accidents are believed to occur because of the collective failures of group actions. It is very important to understand that worker safety incentives are not complete solutions in improving safety. It has also been found by researchers that worker incentives cannot deliver good outcomes without all inclusive safety programs that take care of drug testing, organizational culture, training and other crucial components in the organizational set up (Opfer, 2002).
Kinds of Safety Incentive Programs
Research has indicated that modification programs in the context of work place behavior have resulted in positively reducing the numbers of accident incidents and that worker safety incentive programs are only one of the different options available to impact the safety behavior of the given population. Other factors that impact safety at the work place are optimism, risk justifications, safety behaviors and workers personal motivation that determine the safety culture in any given organization. In some ways, such factors can be impacted by worker safety rewards by giving recognition to wrong working patterns and motivating workers to adopt safe working practices.
Worker safety incentive programs in the construction industry can be broadly bifurcated into two types; injury and illness based incentive programs and behavior based incentive programs (Hinze, 2002). Incentive programs based upon injury and illness are dependent on the frequency of illness or injury on the principle relating to rewards given to workers. Individual workers and groups are given rewards for reducing accidents and adopting safety measures during a given time period. Such programs can succeed only under assumptions that workers are adequately trained and have requisite knowledge for using the equipments; facilities and equipments are free of risks and do not result in accidents; and accidents are mainly the result of worker negligence and compromises that are made on safety measures.
A major issue with injury and illness related incentive programs relates to the fact that they directly make comparison of the awards with different kinds of injuries. When injury and illness related incentive programs are not being used there appears to be a temptation for workers to avoid reporting work-related injuries and illnesses, particularly those that are not very serious. There is a tendency for injury and illness related incentive programs to compound temptations amongst workers to avoid reporting injuries because they do not wish to lose their specific incentives and will not want to be responsible to the entire group for not receiving the awards. Further, research has also indicated that to organizational aspects could impact investigations and the reporting of injury incidents by safety professionals that could also impact the efficiency of injury and illness related incentive programs. Another apprehension relates to concerns about such programs becoming difficult to discontinue over a long period of time because individual workers start viewing incentives as a matter of right because of which breaks in the given patterns could lead to considerably larger negative influences. Injury and illness related incentive programs could also result in the provision of wrong feedbacks. For instance one group of workers may make considerable efforts to avoid injuries and still suffer from accidents and thus not be given any incentives.
Research has specifically found that there are many accidents that enhance the events that occur as a consequence of the combined forces of several circumstances that may not be within the control of supervisors or groups. Another issue to consider in the context of reporting injuries is that many firms that have advanced safety programs exercise the options to report the actual number of injuries and accidents as compared to firms that have lesser number of programs relating to worker safety (Goetsch, 2005).
Behavior-based Incentive Programs
Behavior based incentive programs relate to observing what behaviors result in as a principle for providing incentives. Research in this regard has found that the measures of determining individual behaviors are a proxy for safety performance measures. In this context, behavior that is rewarded includes participation in group activities such as training programs and safety meetings. Workers that are active in making suggestions about improving safety at the workplace, properly using personal protection equipment and other preventive behaviors that assist in avoiding accidents are also rewarded in this regard. However, there is no doubt that behavior based incentive programs resolve problems relating to quality feedbacks that address injury and illness related incentive programs but the issue of measuring their efficiency still remains unresolved.
Some worker incentive programs in construction industries have been addressing such problems by measuring its effectiveness through regular testing procedures and providing for two-way feedback systems. Additionally, such programs also assist in removing the problems of under reporting of injuries by doing away with the direct links amongst awards and reported number of accidents. Behavior based observations have been known to provide authentic information concerning facilities and equipments that increase risks of injuries amongst workers. A major downside of such programs is that they are relatively complex to monitor and measure primarily because the behavior of workers is characteristically more difficult to measure. Additionally, behaviors of workers change on a consistent basis by way of reactions to external issues such as new working groups, improvement in facilities and provision of new equipment. Workers’ behavior is also known to change through behavior observation programs.
This research was carried out to ascertain if worker safety incentive programs are beneficial and cost-effective for companies in the construction sector in the United States of America. A lot of disparities exist in terms of opinions relating to the effectiveness of worker safety incentive programs. The quantified impact of incentive programs relating to safety in the construction industry continues to remain uncertain. Moreover, not much is known about the process through which varied implementation schemes relating to safety incentives impact the outcomes of such programs. Further, not much is known about the efficiency of safety incentives that are related with experiences and perceptions of construction workers. This methodology has examined the impact of safety incentive programs in the construction industry on safety outcomes by using available data that was obtained from firms in the construction industry. Attempts were initially made to examine the differences in safety performance data amongst construction companies that conduct safety incentive programs and those that did not. Thereafter, an assessment was made of the varied implementation schemes and finally an assessment was made of the experiences of construction workers with such programs.
This study will employ a quantitative research design for purposes of structuring the research process. According to Hopkins (2000), this type of research design will help the researcher to examine the issues at hand since the research is largely interested in evaluating the relationship between variables. Quantitative studies are either descriptive or experimental, but this particular study will employ a descriptive approach since the subjects, in this case the managers and workers in the constructin industry in the USA, will only be dealt with once (Sekaran, 2006).
Primary data was gathered by means of undertaking a survey through questionnaires specifically designed to measure the respondents’ perceptions, values, satisfaction, and loyalty levels towards worker safety incentive programs implemented in the construction industry. According to Sekaran (2006), a survey is effective when the researcher is particularly interested in descriptive assessment of a particular phenomenon as it is the case in this study. Secondary data was collected by means of undertaking a detailed review of related literature.
This research aimed at achieving the objectives of making adjustments about the current perceptions of worker safety incentive programs and identifying the difficulties in the success of such programs in the construction industry. On the basis of the literature review and the answers to questions that were given to individual respondents it was proposed to ascertain the following:
- Whether worker incentive programs are major drivers of worker efficiency.
- Whether the provided incentives actually motivate workers in adopting safety measures in the working environment.
- Whether costs of such programs are in keeping with the perceptions of benefits emanating from implementing the given measures.
- Whether worker safety incentive programs are improving consistently and proving to be of value in the construction industry.
This research used different characteristics that were present in every chosen company for the purpose of this survey. Individuals were also chosen from diverse areas in order to a have a wide cross section of respondents in enabling the study to have a broad perspective while concluding the findings. There were 20 individual respondents chosen from amongst the work force in the construction industry in the USA. Fifteen respondents were chosen from amongst senior managers in construction companies that were actively involved in the decision making process. The basic idea was to have individual perceptions in regard to the efficacy and utility of worker incentive programs as perceived by workers and management.
Company managers were required to respond in the context of their company activities and the significance of incentive programs in relation to varied parameters that were outlined in the questionnaire. There were two sets of questionnaires for managers and individual workers respectively. The questionnaires were designed after conducting a mock pre-test by way of in-depth interviews amongst decision makers in different companies as well as amongst representatives of worker unions. Attempts were made to represent the widest possible cross section of individuals and management representatives in relation to worker management and safety measures in the construction environment. The criteria used for selecting managers rested on the willingness of a given firm’s manager to be interviewed. Individuals were selected amongst a wide base in attempts to include people from different seniority levels and age groups. Some individuals that had worked with construction companies but subsequently left were also included. The average age of interviewed respondents was 34 years.
Target Population and Sample
The target population for this study comprised of senior managers in the construction industry in the USA and workers that worked in construction companies. To get responses from individual respondents and managers questionnaires were considered most meaningful because they provide specific information from the perspective of respondent’s confidentiality. Purposive and convenience sampling approaches were utilized for purposes of coming up with the desired sample. Purposive sampling was used to assist in the process of selecting a sample that has prior knowledge and understanding of worker safety incentive programs (Cohen et al, 2007). Afterwards, the subjects were requested to respond to the questionnaire by virtue of being in the right location at the right time, otherwise known as convenience sampling (Sekaran, 2006).
Data Gathering Instruments
Primary data for the study in the case of individual respondents was collected by means of a semi-structured questionnaire schedule. A questionnaire is desirable in a descriptive study basically because it is easy to administer the tool in such settings (Cohen et al, 2007). The tool has been designed to measure the respondents’ perceptions, attitudes, and values regarding safety incentive programs using a five-point Likert-type scale, and how these variables combine to enhance or lessen their perception levels. Apart from the ability to attain a high response rate, it is also easy to undertake a comparative analysis when using a questionnaire due to the fact that most items consist of closed-ended questions (Sekaran, 2006). The questionnaire used in this particular study was also subjected to thorough testing to ensure that issues of data validity and reliability are appropriately dealt with. Secondary data for this study was collected through a comprehensive review of literature, sourced from reliable sources, including textbooks and journals.
In order to ascertain whether worker safety incentive programs are beneficial and cost-effective, different companies of different sizes located in the United States of America were contacted and information obtained from them about the safety incentive programs being implemented by them. Statistical information on the different kinds of safety incentive programs and the theory costs related with such programs were obtained. The yearly costs of workers compensation, the yearly numbers of OSHA lost time injuries and the extent of their seriousness were collected so that relevant trends could be measured and the relevant population defined.
This case study is aimed to describe the various types of programs in use by companies and their effectiveness. Several companies were contacted via phone and questionnaires regarding their safety incentive programs. Of those, some agreed to share their data and information regarding their incentive programs. The safety and health contacts for each company were asked for the following sets of data: annual numbers of OSHA recordable and lost time incidents, incident and severity rates, annual costs of their safety incentive programs, annual workers’ compensation costs (paid losses, not premiums), and indirect costs of their programs. The number of years of data required was dependent on the number of years the safety incentive programs have been in place.
Most of the previous research efforts relating to worker safety incentive programs are based on anecdotal studies. Two surveys were developed to obtain empirical information and data relating to the use of worker safety incentive programs and the resulting safety performance for different companies. One survey was developed for managers and the other for construction workers. The survey for managers was devised in collecting responses from safety directors in construction companies and other SH & E personnel holding responsibility of such programs in the respective companies. The survey was interested in issues relating to how companies handled their safety incentive programs, how they compiled data relating to safety performance outcomes and the experiences and perceptions of every company in relation to incentive programs. The survey for construction workers addressed issues relating only to workers that were employed with construction companies that were using worker safety incentive programs. The survey made attempts to examine their individual perceptions and experiences of participation in worker safety incentive programs.
The study employed both quantitative and qualitative data assessment techniques for gathering primary and secondary data. Quantitative assessment involved coding the data contained in the questionnaires and entering them into a statistical package known as SPSS. Afterwards, cleaning and analysis of the data was performed using the same package to generate frequency distributions and descriptive statistics that were used to answer the study’s main objectives. Data was presented in different forms and the qualitative data generated by the open ended questions was analyzed by using a process known as qualitative content approach. This method involves cleaning, coding, and evaluating responses that were given in either verbal or written communication so as to permit them to be considered quantitatively (Sekaran, 2006). The available data was analyzed by compiling the same so that the prevailing trends could be determined. Statistical procedures were used to ascertain whether there was any relationship in the context of positive or negative between the two sets of statistical information. Coalition coefficients were calculated in order to validate the given patterns.
Of the 42 companies that were surveyed, 60% were found to have safety incentive programs in place while the remaining 40 per cent were not using them. Almost 50 per cent of the companies that were implementing worker safety incentive programs in the construction industry had been making use of such programs for less than four years. 10 per cent amongst them were using safety incentive programs for over 12 years. Considerable relationship was found amongst the worker safety incentive programs and yearly volumes of work. Companies that were using such programs were also found to have considerable and statistically important greater mean volumes workload as compared to companies that were not implementing incentive programs.
In order to understand the motivations behind why construction companies implemented such safety programs the managers survey required every respondent to outline six objectives in order of importance that were used in the implementation of such programs. The required objectives were:
- Reduction in the number of recordable accidents.
- Improvement in safety awareness amongst employees.
- Changing workers perceptions and behaviors in adopting safer working practices.
- Maintaining efficient records of safety.
- Minimizing safety related claims.
- Minimizing losses.
In order to determine the three most significant objectives in the context of implementation of worker safety incentive programs different weights were given to the numbers of responses received for every objective. For instance, it was found that 22 companies gave more importance to reducing recordable accidents in terms of their primary objective; 12 companies considered the same as a secondary objective while 8 companies considered it as the tertiary objective. Hence it was found that the three most important objectives in the context of implementation of worker safety programs were related to:
- Changing worker behaviors in order to adopt safer working practices.
- Improvement of safety awareness amongst all workers.
- Reducing the number of recordable accidents.
It was observed that most companies make use of safety incentive programs to reduce the rates of accidents as also to have a strong influence on worker’s behavior. It is strongly considered that safety performance in companies will improve if safety awareness and worker behavior is changed.
Since all industries in the construction sector do not provide for worker safety incentive programs it became necessary to get in touch with such companies that were known to use worker safety incentive programs. There were many companies that declined to cooperate and provide information for the research and thus the population could not be fully representative of all firms that provide for worker safety incentive programs. Considerable amount of difficulties were faced in effectively identifying all benefits and costs related with worker safety incentive programs. Under such circumstances it became difficult to ascertain the advantages and disadvantages of such programs.
Research Sample for Managers’ Survey
While creating the survey for managers, the process involved an exhaustive review of the literature. A pilot survey was created and administered on the basis of past research objectives and findings. The survey comprised of a questionnaire that contained questions about the pertinent issues relating to worker incentive programs, their performance and the hardships faced by management in executing such programs. Their suggestions and comments were included in the survey. The managers’ survey was also administered via e-mail to a number of construction companies in the USA. The total number of managers that were chosen as respondents for the survey was 20 and the total number of workers was 25. The questionnaire for managers comprised of 20 questions while the questionnaire for workers included 15 questions. Results of the survey were analyzed by using SPSS software in order to have an exhaustive analysis of the data.
Research Sample for Construction Workers’ Survey
The survey for workers was conducted in companies that were implementing worker safety incentive programs. The research team contacted a number of workers that were administered questionnaires. All respondents were taken into confidence and assured that their privacy would be protected and their replies treated as anonymous and in strict confidence. The questionnaire did not solicit any personal information nor were attempts made to gather information about their employers. The average experience of the workers in the construction industry was found to be 16.10 years. Almost half the number of workers had less than 15 years of experience in the construction industry while 10 per cent amongst them had more than 30 years of experience.
Effectiveness of Safety Performance
To make sure about the effectiveness of safety performance in quantitative terms in relation to worker safety incentive programs, varied performance measures were obtained during the managers’ survey:
- OSHA recordable cases whereby workers were required to visit medical facilities after sustaining injuries at work that required more than just administration of first aid.
- Lost time workday cases, whereby workers were unable to attend work because of injuries or illness sustained while working, which was considered as a part of the total OSHA recordable cases.
- Restricted work day cases were those whereby workers who were not able to perform work to their full capacity on account of injuries or illness sustained while working because of which they had to be assigned to lesser workloads.
- The Experienced Modification Rate (EMR) was used to ascertain the insurance premiums for workers compensation. Calculations pertaining to EMR are made on the basis of every company’s compensation claims experiences during the previous three years in relation to the industry averages. Basically, EMR includes the number of accidents including the seriousness of the cases. The managers’ survey also included the total worker hours for each firm, which enabled the research to get data about restricted rates of incidents and lost time.
Effectiveness of Safety Incentive Programs
In order to ascertain the effect of incentives on safety outcomes in construction companies, a comparison was made with companies that were not implementing safety incentive programs, more in the context of lost time and restricted and recordable rates. Amongst the 42 companies that responded in indicating the rates of their lost time workplace incidents, a lot of disparity was found in the rates of mean lost time workday incidents amongst companies that implemented and did not implement safety incentive programs. Amongst all the companies that had provided information about the rates of their restricted workday incidents, a considerable difference was found amongst companies that implemented and did not implement worker safety incentive programs. Amongst companies that provided details of their OSHA recordable rates of incidents, considerable diversity was found in the mean OSHA recordable rates of incidents.
In order to make assessments to ascertain if there were any variations in the context of how safety incentive programs were implemented in these companies, the research efforts were directed at examining the disparities in safety performance amongst those companies that were implementing worker safety incentive programs. Analysis was also made of different factors in order to ascertain if they created a strong impact in safety measures amongst companies that were making use of safety incentive programs. Attempts were made to get data about:
- The number of people that received incentives in such programs.
- The kind of incentives that were used in terms of being either injury or behavior based.
- The time period that was covered and utilized in providing incentives.
- The kind of awards that were presented.
About 47 per cent of companies that were implementing worker safety incentive programs were found to be evaluating only individual performance of workers in considering the criteria for giving awards. However, 45% of the companies were found to be evaluating the entire group performance in ascertaining eligibility criteria for awards pertaining to safety incentives. About 8% of the companies did not respond to such questions. The research also made attempts to examine if there were any disparities existing on the basis of the people that were given incentives. Companies that were giving worker more incentives were found to be having slightly lower ratings that were not considered to be statistically important.
39 per cent of the companies that were making use of worker safety incentive programs were found to be relying only on using injury figures while 28 per cent of the companies that were using incentive programs were relying only on behavioral patterns of workers. 24 per cent of the companies relied in this context on both behavioral and injuries patterns. About 9 per cent of the companies that were implementing worker safety programs did not respond to the given questions in this regard. Not much relationship was found between the rates of accidents and whether the rewards criteria relied on behavior or injuries patterns. It was also found that the different rates of incidents and EMR were not significantly different statistically amongst companies that made measurement of both the behaviors and injuries patterns.
Management and Worker Perceptions
The research also made an examination of the disparities in opinions amongst workers and management in the context of different issues relating to safety incentive programs. The survey sought information from some company directors and members of top management as also from construction workers about their opinion pertaining to:
- The overall values of worker safety incentive programs.
- The potential of such programs to lessen recordable accidents.
- The impact of such programs on worker behaviors.
- The ability of such programs to enhance safety awareness amongst workers.
- The ability of such programs to enable long-term improvement in safety measures.
In entirety it was found that workers had more positive opinions in the context of the efficiency of safety incentive programs as compared to what was felt by management teams and directors that were overseeing the implementation of such programs. About 42 percent of the surveyed workers responded in indicating that they felt there was significant over all value attached with safety incentive programs as against the five percent managers that felt the same about the same issue. Workers attached greater values to safety incentive programs than what was felt by the management. The disparity was more significant in the context of workers perception about the potential of incentive programs to lessen recordable rates of incidents, which they believed was more positive as compared to what was revealed by the management. The perceptions of workers in relation to the incentive program capability to alter safety behaviors was also found to be more optimistic as compared to the perceptions revealed by members of the top management of surveyed companies. Workers’ perceptions about the program potential to enhance safety awareness amongst workers were also found to be more optimistic as compared to the management. The over all perceptions of workers in the context of the programs’ capability to bring long term improvements in safety performances were more optimistic as compared to that of the management.
Findings and Analysis
In order to examine the long-term impact of safety incentive programs upon OSHA rates of recordable incidents, a comparison was made between the OSHA rates of recordable incidents and companies that were implementing a worker safety incentive programs in the given period. Later the comparison was made amongst the other companies that had been implementing the worker incentive programs prior to the period under consideration. It was found that the total number of companies that were implementing the incentive programs were lesser than what was required to carry out an efficient statistical examination, which made the research to group together all the companies that were implementing such programs after a particular year. There was an increase in the mean from 2.40 to 2.70 in the context of recordable rates of incidents for companies that were implementing worker safety incentive programs while making comparison between the years 2003 and 2010. Similarly, the mean in the year 2003 for companies that were implementing such programs after a given year were also calculated and a consistent increase was found to occur in the mean values for companies that had been adopting worker safety incentive programs for longer number of years.
This pattern amongst the sample population of construction companies is clearly supportive of the theory that the positive impact of safety incentive programs diminishes over time. It is vital to recognize that such analysis in this research looked into the differences in the rates mainly because of the presence of safety incentive programs. The analysis does not define the varied types of safety incentive programs as implemented by different companies such as using tangible and intangible safety rewards, mainly due to the reason that the sample sizes for the research was not supportive of such kinds of exhaustive analysis although such efforts can certainly prove to be worthy in future research initiatives. In order to further analyze the impact of safety incentive programs in the construction industry in terms of effectiveness over a given period, the mean 2003 OSHA recordable rates of incidents were compared between companies that were implementing worker safety incentive programs.
Advantages & Disadvantages of Safety Incentive Programs
In order to make a thorough analysis of the experiences of workers in the context of safety incentive programs, workers were asked to specify the advantages and disadvantages of working in companies that were implementing safety incentive programs. Workers felt that the best possible benefits pertained to making the work place safe, which was indicated by 42 percent workers. The next important advantage as considered by workers was the receipt of awards, which was felt by 22 percent of the respondents. About 18 percent of the respondents felt that reduction in accidents was advantageous while 16 percent felt that the incentive programs resulted in more alertness towards safety measures.
The most significant disadvantage identified by workers was that most accidents and resultant losses of incentives were not because of workers’ faults but because of factors that were beyond their control, which was felt by eleven percent of workers. About seven percent of the workers believed that safety incentive programs took up excessive time for them thus resulting in slowing down of the production process. Five percent workers believed that the safety incentive programs were very slow in improving safety. Five percent workers also believed that such programs encourage patterns whereby all accidents are not reported. The remaining 72 percent workers believed that worker safety incentive programs did not pose any disadvantage.
Amongst the companies that were surveyed it is evident that those that were implementing safety incentive programs were characterized with experiencing low rates of lost time incidents, lesser rates of accidents and lesser EMR as against companies that were not implementing safety incentive programs. There are specific indications to the effect that when measured in terms of disparities in the context of rates of lost time incidents, companies implementing safety incentive programs experienced larger levels of improvements in terms of safety realization during the covered period, as against companies that were not implementing such programs. Rewards that were instituted on the basis of groups versus individual levels of performance, behavior versus accident rates and varied time periods for instituting rewards did not make any variation in the efficiency of such programs amongst the companies that comprised the sample population. But companies that were using only perceptible rewards as against those that were using both perceptible and imperceptible rewards were found to be having superior safety performance standards.
Workers in construction companies were more in favor of the efficiency of safety incentive programs as compared to the perceptions held by managers in these companies. Some workers in construction companies understand that safety incentive programs are characterized with some disadvantages; majority believes that there are no disadvantages associated with such programs. Most workers feel that their responsibility is to improve safety at the work place. Although the research findings do support the view that worker safety incentive programs result in improvements in work place safety, they cannot survive on their own strength alone. In fact, such programs must be a part of an all inclusive program that includes training for workers as well as their safety in the entire construction process. The research found that safety can be improved by using incentives that are part of the conventional outcome measures.
The objective of the research was to examine various programs used by different companies, which were then compared in order to ascertain their efficiency. The research also examined how every program is devised and implemented in efforts to ascertain the extent to which individual programs are fruitful. The results are very important because they assist companies in determining whether safety incentive programs are actually cost-effective and valuable for companies that implement them. The methodology looked into annual standardized costs of incentive programs. The yearly cost of workers compensation, excluding premium was examined to ascertain if the safety incentive programs have resulted in a reduction of such costs over time. The rate of incidents, their severity and lost time cases were considered under provisions of OSHA to determine if the incentive programs have been able to reduce the negative impacts. Analysis has also been made of the indirect costs relating to non-reporting of injuries.
A major concern with safety incentive programs relates to the fact that a large number of injuries go unreported. Additionally, many proponents of such programs do agree that such safety incentives lower the propensity of reporting accidental incidents if they are not managed efficiently. Workers often do not report injuries in fear of the chances of their colleagues receiving incentives. Such an environment pertaining to underreporting of incidents is usually associated with managements that are not committed to maintaining a safe working environment. This also reveals that the management is mainly interested in reducing the cost of workers compensation at the expense of worker safety and health. For incentive programs to work efficiently in the construction industry, management of companies has to become committed to the given programs. Many companies have started dealing with worker safety incentive programs by devising their own incentive programs and requiring workers to comply with predetermined conditions whereby they could lose their jobs if they do not report work related injuries.
Costs of administration of such incentive schemes are considered to be quite high because of the amount of work that has to be done in order to keep the program running without hurdles. There are also some hidden costs in the context of incentive programs that are often ignored by many companies. Workers and companies have to pay higher taxes on the awards and incentives received in this regard. Another major cost factor of incentive programs is the recurring expenses on accidental incidents arising due to failure of identifying and resolving the prevailing complexities. Issues can be avoided by quality managers in avoiding costs of such noncompliance. When injuries are not reported it is implied that the causes of accidents are not investigated and corrected because of which work place accidents usually create more severe problems in future. Companies in the construction industry serious about reducing costs or health and safety, place lot of importance on injury reports and data collection for identifying patterns and for taking proactive steps in making required changes so that such instances are not repeated.
Although OSHA regulations provide that companies with more than ten employees have to comply with its inspection requirements, high risk companies such as construction companies have to comply with the requirements irrespective of the numbers of employees. OSHA has been adopting regular precautionary practices in some important areas such as:
- OSHA places top priority to occupational hazards that imply significant risks in terms of the possible risks of serious injuries or death to workers. The company is required to take immediate remedial measures under such circumstances.
- OSHA carries out casualty and calamity investigations in industrial establishments that have had experience of accidents resulting in the death of one worker or the hospitalization of three or more workers as provided under its guidelines. Employers are required to report such instances within eight hours of occurrence after which the OSHA inspection will be carried out to ascertain the cause of the accident and whether any OSHA violations have been committed in this regard.
- OSHA places significant importance towards employee complaints and investigates in response to complaints from workers in the context of violations and prevalent hazards at the work place. OSHA responds to such complaints immediately and workers are allowed to remain anonymous while making such complaints.
- OSHA has been adopting practices whereby it gives cognizance to information received from other sources such as firms, workers and representatives of local, state and federal governments and media representatives.
- OSHA follows up with verification in many cases to ensure that the hazards and violations have been rectified as directed.
- OSHA also conducts some routine inspections by making surprise visits to high risk organizations or companies that have been experiencing high lost work day injuries rates.
In situations when OSHA finds that employers have been violating any of its rules and regulations, it will take remedial action by penalizing firms that indulge in violating the safety norms. The citation gives the specific nature of the offense, the time period in which the problems have been resolved and the penalties that have been imposed against the defaulting company. It is noteworthy in this regard that violations that are intentionally committed by companies attract huge penalties of up to $70,000 for every violation detected during checks carried out by OSHA representatives. If a worker dies because of deliberate violations, the employers can be fined or imprisoned or both. In this regard Congress had introduced in 1984, the Hazard Communication Standard, which confers rights on workers to know the legal provisions. The legislation provides workers with rights to know the kind of hazardous materials they are being exposed to during work. Any substance or job function is considered as hazardous if it has the potential to result in severe or chronic health complexities.
Under provisions of the prevailing regulations all companies have to devise working systems whereby inventories of dangerous materials have to be kept handy and packing of these materials has to be labeled appropriately. Workers have to be provided with the required training and information to deal with dangerous chemicals and other materials. Most companies do not have written communication systems, chemical inventory lists, labeled containers and material safety information at work sites. Many organizations do not provide adequate training about the working hazards that they are exposed to. The government is known to fine violations relating to the OSHA Hazard Communication Standard ranging from $1000 for the first violation to $10, 000 for subsequent violations. When organizations indulge in large scale violation pertaining to the environment they can be fined in excess of $75,000 for each day of deviating from the regulations, which also may include imprisonment.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is another law that has a strong bearing on performance standards of organizational health and safety procedures in the country. Workers are protected by the Act if they become disabled. If the worker suffers from physical or mental complexities that considerably restrict his or her life activities he or she has to be provided with compensations by the employer. As per ADA provisions temporary and non-recurring ailments do not fall in the category of disability under the Act. For instance, influenza, appendicitis, concussion, sprain and broken limb are not considered as instances of disability that cannot also be claimed for workers’ compensation benefits, but if the broken limb does not heal and results in permanent harm that restricts the worker’s body functions, it is recognized as disability as per law and as per established practices in the industry.
In the context of responses towards the worker safety incentive programs there were 16,300 charges of violations filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2005. After July, 1992, when the first law became effective in this regard, till the end of 2005, a total number of 205,995 complaints were filed with the EEOC by workers. Almost half of such claims had been made by workers that that sustained injuries at the work place and subsequently became disabled. Amongst workers that filed charges, the largest number pertained to back impairments, while a large number of people also made charges in the context of, neurological, emotional and marginal impairments. It is known in this context that penalties for organizations pertaining to such violations could cross amounts of $50,000 for the first violation and exceed beyond $100,000 for subsequent violations and other acts of deviation from the provided regulations. Additionally, the Civil Rights Act, 1991, provides for workers to claim up to a maximum of $300,000 for corrective damages in the context of employer behaviors that clearly demonstrate that they have been indulging in such activities without adhering to the provided instructions.
Although laws have been introduced in the country to ensure that safety is taken care of in the working environment, construction companies in the country have been demonstrating a pattern of increasing incidents of accidents. As per estimates, workers are known to have lost almost 80 million workdays since 2002 because of injury sustained at the workplace while over 3.8 million people have been disabled because of injuries sustained in the workplace. The basic issue arises as to what is the reason for all these workplace injuries. There are several causes for the pattern of accidents happening in the construction sector in the country and broadly they can be divided into three types; procedural insufficiencies, equipment insufficiencies and employee errors. Procedural insufficiencies include failure of procedures in eliciting and understanding warnings relating to hazards; ineffective procedures for handling of materials at the workplace; failures to tag out and inefficient written work processes. Equipment insufficiencies relate to using inappropriate equipments; safety devices becoming in operational; and extreme lack of protective clothing, respiratory protections and engineering controls. Employee errors are made when there are miscalculated situations; neuromuscular malfunctioning; distraction; ineffective working environment and intentional use of defective equipments.
Accidents in the industrial working environment are known to create severe problems for workers and for firms in terms of complications and disadvantages but at the same time employers are well placed to prevent most of the accidents by using different prevention methods in the working environment. Given that some people are prone to accidents, organizations need to know what the rates of injuries are by screening out such applicants when they make job applications. Research has concluded in this regard that workers with specific personality traits have higher chances than others to get injured in industrial accidents. For example, one research found that people that are prone to higher rates of industrial accidents are mostly those that are rebellious and impulsive and that most of such people blame external forces instead of themselves for the accidents. Other research studies have found that there are higher risk personality characteristics in this regard:
- People that take higher risks are always searching for opportunities to face dangerous situations instead of trying to reduce the risks involved.
- Workers behave impulsively that makes them to avoid thinking about the negative impact of what they are doing.
- Many workers have the tendency to refrain from following the provided rules and safety provisions.
- Aggressive workers have the tendency to become violent very fast, which makes them to get involved in aggressive behaviors such as kicking machines that may be jammed temporarily and thus end up in severely injuring themselves.
Many organizations now make use of personality testing to identify workers that are prone to taking risks in working environments. Many companies adopt such testing procedures to make assessment about the safety ability of people that apply for jobs with them. A major part of the test aims at determining the extent to which these people have perceptions about connecting with their own behaviors and with the outcomes resulting from what they do. As observed earlier, workers that are not able to see the connection between their own behavior and the involved risks stand higher chances of sustaining injuries in a working environment. Employers that provide training to their workers about safe working procedures experience lesser number of accidents. Therefore, workers are expected to learn the safety procedures of their tasks to the maximum possible extent. Employers at construction sites are required to be specific in meeting training needs of all workers in different departments so that they are well versed with the safety procedures in avoiding the incidence of accidental injuries.
Although safety training is crucial, there are many instances when employers are unable to motivate workers towards all that they have learnt during the safety training programs. Such possibilities are similar to the example of automobile drivers who are aware that it is wrong to exceed the provided speed limits, but they still choose to ignore such limits and eventually suffer in terms of meeting with accidents. Similarly, workers at construction sites often ignore instructions and continue with their job performance by using unsafe procedures. A possible way to reduce such problems is thus believed to be safety incentive programs. In many situations such programs have succeeded in motivating safe practices by workers because they develop the tendency to avoid risky behaviors and to adopt safety measures. The construction companies identify safety objectives, mostly on department wise basis and announce rewards if such objectives are met. For instance, given departments in a construction company may fix goals of reducing lost time accidents by 50 per cent during the next two months. If such a goal is achieved, all workers in the department will be given incentive rewards, mostly by way of cash bonuses or other benefits by way of prizes and other incentives in kind.
Worker safety incentive programs have been successful in a large number of situations. However there are specific problems that have to be faced while implementing worker safety incentive programs. Sometimes workers become over anxious to win the given incentive rewards and start concealing the injuries sustained by them and refrain from reporting them to the management. When such injuries are not reported, it is understood that workers have surrendered their right for workers compensation while the organization remains unaware of the safety issues. Secondly, workers could continue performing in risky environments and start taking shortcuts because they are not convinced that such behaviors are actually leading to larger number of accidents. However such workers realize too late that they have been adopting wrong procedures because their unsafe working habits become the main cause of injuries and accidents. As per one estimate there are about 10,100 injury related accidents, 150 lost time accidental incidents, 1100 recorded injuries and one case of death for every 100,000 risky actions taken by workers in the working environment.
Such overconfident workers in construction companies continue to engage in risky behaviors because of which many companies have started focusing their efforts from preventing accidents towards adopting practices and setting standards that tend to prevent risk related actions and behaviors that are invariably known to result in accidents. In order to achieve such objectives many companies in the construction sector have begun to conduct safety audits. Safety committees and supervisors that are appointed in being given specific responsibilities are required to keep watch over workers and advise them on how to avoid risky behaviors. All workers are monitored according to given procedures under predetermined time frames, mostly on a weekly basis.
Given that workers behavior is impacted by the prevailing events and environment in the industry, it can be significantly reinforced through positive feedback and weakened by negative results. Further, it is also known that incentives by way of rewards motivate workers and promotes a safe environment in eventually improving performance of safety measures. People that are skeptical in this regard have argued that safety incentive programs have not succeeded in providing improvement in safety standards on a consistent basis. Motivation is a crucial factor in all worker incentive programs. There is need for positive feedbacks, reinforcements and rewards and recognition, which are considered to be the four main elements of any worker safety incentive programs. Positive reinforcement refers to things that result in the required behaviors but it is the most widely misunderstood link in this regard. It can either be a small award or just simple words of praise.
This research has found that worker safety incentive programs mostly have a positive impact upon safety performance standards of companies although the results are achieved and the changes effected over a given timeframe. The findings are clearly suggestive of the fact that as worker safety incentive programs mature, the accident rates in most construction companies also increase over time. This aspect also is in confirmation with the outcomes achieved by different procedures of investigation in the context of construction companies. It is also known that worker incentive programs do create positive results, although in a few years because of the time taken and a majority of effort is made in the context of OSHA recordable, restricted work day cases and lost time workdays. The time period considered for the sampled construction companies varied between three and four years.
But the positive impact of worker safety incentive programs was not found to be permanent as they appeared to diminish over time. Such findings sufficiently complied with the studied objective relating to the identification of the effectiveness of worker safety incentive programs and the changes that occur over time in such procedures. Another objective of the study was the identification of the long-term effectiveness of worker safety incentive programs. The idea was to ascertain if the efficiency of such programs varies with different performance measures. The research did not find any significant variation on the basis of the research and the safety performance measures of recordable, restricted and lost time accident rates. The paper made use of analysis from the perspective of dichotomous quinces in the context of whether or not the company implemented worker safety incentive programs. The obtained results would have not been the same if the analysis was different amongst varied types of incentive programs and their efficiency over time.
The concept is certainly worthy for the research but the present efforts could not make a detailed analysis in view of sample size of the resources available for primary data. Specific reasons in the context of enhancement in the rates of accidents over time, even when safety incentive programs were being implemented, remain unresolved under the circumstances. At the same time, anecdotal data has suggested that over time, safety incentives lose their attraction and do not continue to have the same motivating force as they did at the time of their establishment within the company procedures. Further, this research has also supported the long-term efficiency of safety incentive programs in construction companies, which has been actively assumed by majority of safety professionals. It is clear from the analysis that once a worker safety incentive program is successfully introduced in any organization, the prevalent challenges pertaining to safety and accidents continue within the organization’s working environment. Therefore, it is required of organizations to consistently work towards reinventing safety incentive programs by introducing new measures and reward schemes so that motivation and interest of workers are maintained to ensure safety at the workplace.
Worker safety incentive programs may appear to result in outcomes in the context of required consequences in the short term but in the long term such rewards have not entirely demonstrated any impact in introducing lasting behavioral transformation amongst workers. Moreover, it is also observed by researchers that side effects and unintentional outcomes often lead to undesired behaviors and undesired outcomes. Usually such negativities are countered by using more efficient administration procedures. Programs have to be refined more precisely in order to address the negative outcomes. People that are in favor of worker safety incentive programs have also recognized that if the rewards systems are not characterized with reinforcement elements that can impact future behaviors and actions of workers, they will not be effective in the long term. It is also known that over time such programs create complex situations and burdensome procedures whereby the administrative load is increased exponentially. Many theorists have argued that training programs prove to be more effective to achieve positive safety outcomes.
It is strongly believed by many that improvement in safety performances results from safety incentive programs. But if an in depth examination is made of the individual programs it is found that incentives are not sufficient for creating an entirely safe working environment in the construction industry. What is more pertinent is the implementation of a safety management procedure that is critical to achieve higher levels of safety performance. There cannot be a direct link between returns and efforts because of the fact that most of such programs have not been exhaustively and meaningfully measured, examined and evaluated. Wherever efficiency and effectiveness has been cited, it is mainly on the basis of anecdotal evidence. It is known that incentives form an important part of the conventional command and control paradigms.
The main purpose of using incentives is because others that have tried using them have experienced positive results and better performance. In keeping with such patterns, the main purpose of using such programs is to popularize the processes instead of creating documentary evidence, which then becomes the basis for following proactive procedures. The Construction Industry Institute conducted research and found through its Zero Accident Study some far reaching facts about the characteristics prevailing in the construction industry. Even the most efficient procedures in the construction industry clearly indicated that if incentive programs are portrayed amongst the top practices, they will gain popularity amongst workers that will further result in added efficiency. Therefore such circumstances create a confusing and foggy research background on which decisions that impact the economics of a sizeable construction program can be based.
The effect of rewards and incentives thus appears to be quite unclear. It is true that incentives tend to make workers feel good and can also be considered as bringing no harm to them or to the organization but they are extremely damaging in terms of long term performance of the organization. If one considers the amount of efforts that are required to introduce and effectively implement safety incentive programs, given the extreme uncertainty in the context of returns on investments, it does imply that a better economic decision will be to provide resources towards activities that are not ambiguous. The basic objective in this regard is to ensure that such concepts should create positive results in the context of efficiency in the safety environment. Safety incentive programs must be implemented in situations when there is no other economically and high impact actions remaining to be introduced by the firm in question.
Other safety related programs that can be stressed upon by construction companies that should be taken up on top priority are to implement and develop basic procedures so that inefficient functions are screened out from the industrial environment prevailing in the company. A weighted bid evaluation system should be used in giving credit to workers that adopt safety norms. The organization should introduce a drug and substance abuse screening program that comprises of post accident and random testing. It is also required to implement an entire and all inclusive safety management process that comprises of varied stages of programming management that provides for vigilant supervision of the complete worker safety incentive programs.
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