Recognition: Understanding Cause and Effect

Recognition of employees with a bonus or other extrinsic rewards for not having a lost time injury during a specified period of time is a very common strategy in all industries today. The thinking behind this strategy is that recognizing employees for safe behavior will decrease the frequency of lost time injuries. The assumption is there is some kind of cause-effect relationship between safe behavior and the number of lost-time injuries in the workplace. But, is there, really?

Just a Roll of the Dice

Actually, a close relationship between safe behavior and the frequency of all injures does exist, and we can predict the outcome. However, it’s much more difficult to predict the severity of an injury when an accident occurs because severity is more a result of just being lucky than anything else: it’s a roll of the dice. The severity of an injury is an outcome over which employees have no control.

For instance, let’s say an employee is standing on the top rung of a ladder and falls. If the employee is lucky, the fall won’t result in an injury. However, if the employee is unlucky, the injury could easily be severe enough to be considered a lost-time injury or even a fatality. It’s not the fall that injures, it’s how you land, and that’s just a matter of luck.

Consequently, recognizing employees for the number of lost-time injuries is not effective because the cause-effect relationship is not strong enough to actually predict that the number of lost-time accidents in the workplace will decrease.

Bottom line: Focus on recognizing safe behaviors, not the number of lost-time injuries.