Mar 2016

Workers’ Comp Insurer & OSHA Disagree Over Use of Safety Incentive Programs

Massachusetts workers' compensation attorneyReporting workplace injuries is essential for employees to receive workers’ compensation benefits. When an injury is not reported in a timely manner, the failure to alert an employer about the injury could be considered grounds for denying a workers’ compensation claim. Unfortunately, despite the importance of reporting workplace injuries, Safety News Alert reports one study showed only around 70 percent of workplace injuries are properly reported.

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) believes one reason why some workers do not report workplace injuries is because of safety incentive programs.

These safety incentive programs are ostensibly organized by employers to try to reduce the rates of injury at work. The reality, however, is the programs may only end up discouraging workers from reporting injuries they have sustained and not actually doing anything to create a culture of safety.  OSHA has long discouraged the use of these programs, but one workers’ compensation insurer is now arguing OSHA is wrong to oppose safety incentives which reward all workers for low accident rates.

Do Safety Incentive Programs Discourage Workers’ from Reporting Injuries?

The incentive programs which are a concern for OSHA include those which offer rewards to an entire group of employees for a certain number of days without a missed work day due to injury. The rewards may be things like cash incentives or even something as simple as a pizza party.

OSHA does not believe these rewards actually change the culture in the workplace or make a noticeable impact on the prevention of work injuries. After all, it is a far stronger incentive for workers to try to avoid injuries so they don’t face serious health problems than to try to avoid injuries because of cash bonuses.  It is often not the employees who create the conditions which make worksites unsafe, so offering them small financial incentives is unlikely to improve conditions enough to result in an actual reduction in work injuries.

Instead, what the programs actually do is result in employees being peer-pressured not to report when they’ve sustained an injury or not to take a day off due to the injury.   Since many employees already do not report injuries for many reasons, including fear of job loss or financial loss, adding peer pressure to the mix is not beneficial.

Because of these concerns, OSHA released a memo in 2012 indicating these safety programs should be discouraged and the agency also released a draft document recently reiterating its objections to the use of group incentive programs.

Now, a workers’ comp insurer is speaking out to dispute OSHA and is arguing the incentives are an important safety tool and are too low to result in peer pressure. Of course, since workers’ compensation insurers directly benefit from having fewer work injuries reported, the fact the insurance company is encouraging the use of these types of programs could actually be seen as further evidence the programs are good for insurers and not so good for workers.

The bottom line is, regardless of any safety incentives in your workplace, you need to report a work injury if it happens. The loss from not reporting could be far greater than any financial incentive you may be offered by an employer for not missing any work days.

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