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A steak dinner.

A free jacket.

Twenty-five dollars.

What do they all have in common? They are examples of prizes that have been given to workers under company safety award programs.

Often companies will show concern when faced with a high accident rate. Company interest can be aroused by the facts themselves, by pressure from the union health and safety committee, or by pressure from a governmental inspection agency.

In an attempt to remedy a high accident rate, often companies will look for an easy solution. A popular scheme that is often used in the introduction of a safety award program.

The advantage to the company in a safety award program is visibility: to the company head office, to the governmental inspection agency, and to the workers. The company can give the appearance to each of these groups that they are trying to reduce a high accident rate.

Safety Awards - Unsatisfactory

The main reason that a safety awards program is unsatisfactory is because its fundamental premise is that workers are the cause of injuries. Workers are rewarded for "being safe". Yet as we all realize, workers cannot purchase safe equipment or direct maintenance to install machine guards or repair a broken stair.

A safety awards program shifts the focus on safety away from the responsibility of the employer to provide a safe and healthy place to work and to provide safety training to new members, onto the shoulders of the workers who are made to take the "blame" for their own injuries.

Awards Distort Injury Frequency

The most popular type of safety award program rewards the workers for a low or reduced injury or accident rate. The accident rate is usually measured by counting reported injuries or time loss injuries and dividing by the number of hours worked.

If workers or groups of workers are competing for safety awards this puts pressure on a worker not to report an injury. The implications of not reporting an injury can vary from insignificant to enormous for the worker involved. Any injury which has a possibility of re-occurring, for example a back injury, is especially important to report since future complications which may last a lifetime will most probably not be accepted as a Workers' Compensation Board responsibility if the injury has not been initially reported.

We know of cases where injured workers have taken their sick pay or holiday pay rather than accept time loss payments from the WCB. The reason: so they wouldn't jeopardize their crew's chances for a company's safety award which may amount to a fairly hefty amount of money.

Should workers accept these bribes in exchange for not reporting injuries?

Not reporting injuries artificially lowers the company accident frequency rate. The company is then able to show to their head office that their safety performance has improved while the true accident figures are hidden. The company's WCB premium may be reduced if the WCB claims costs are reduced significantly. The union health and safety committee's attempt to convince the company to embark on a genuine safety program is thus made more difficult.

Gimmicks should never be allowed to replace a positive, longterm health and safety program.

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