Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Safety Bingo: Bad Behavior

OSHA likes to boast every year that injuries and illnesses are going down. But sometimes I'm a bit skeptical. For example.....

In response to the recent posting about Canadian nurses being offered $300 for not staying home when they're sick, I got an e-mail from Ed Padgett who works for the L.A. Times:
After reading how the Canadians implemented the reward for not calling in sick, I was taken back at my job when my employer (Los Angeles Times), a Tribune Corp., rolled out another bright idea along the lines of the Canadians.

Starting On October 1st, 2003, the employees of Operations (pressroom, mailroom, machine shop, electronics, etc.) will be rewarded $50.00 a month, if employees from their team do not take time off with on the job injuries. Sounds like the company is encouraging peer pressure to keep injured workers on the job to me?
Sounds that way to me.

This is how it works. Operations is divided into 5 teams and everyone gets a bingo card. A new number is issued every day and if you get so many in order you win $50. BUT, "An on the job accident which results in lost time or restricted duty to a team member will result in ineligibility for the next month's game for the entire team " And it gets better: "If the entire Operations Department goes for three consecutive months without a lost time or
restricted duty injury, the prize per Bingo following the three-month period will be $75 and six months will. up the prize money to $100 per Bingo."

So you going to let your whole team down just because you were stupid enough to throw your back out or cut your finger off?

This nothing new. Safety Bingo and other safety "incentive" programs are sweeping the country. Do a Google search and you come up with more than 10,000 hits, a good number of them from companies who will set up a program for you:
Safety Bingo.
Watch SAFETY AWARENESS, morale & productivity go UP!

While INJURIES and your
Workers Compensation rates go down!
Unions oppose safety incentive games as one of a variety of ways to discourage workers from reporting injuries or otherwise underestimate the rate of injuries and illnesses in the country. They are part of a management philosophy called behavioral safety, which assumes that workers' behavior is at the bottom of most health and safety problems (as opposed to hazardous working conditions) and that incentives (like money) or punishments will "correct" that behavior.

But incentive games like safety bingo can do more harm than just discouraging reporting. Minor injuries -- the type that are most likely not to be reported -- should be seen as warning signals of much more serious injuries:
In a Massachusetts workplace last year, a worker was caught in an unguarded machine and crushed to death. Minor injuries that had occurred on that machine weren't being reported because the plant utilized both a safety bingo game that rewarded workers for not reporting injuries and a post-injury drug testing policy that mandated drug testing for all workers who reported injuries. If those minor injuries had been reported, the lack of machine guarding could have been identified and corrected. Instead, the hazard was never identified, and a fatality resulted.
So when management tries to implement a safety bingo game, tell them to go play with this word: B-O-Y-C-O-T-T.

You don't have to play. During the Clinton Administration, OSHA began to understand that discouraging people from exercising their right to report an injury was a form of discrimination, and an OSHA violation. The current administration seems slightly less concerned.

If you're in a union, changes in health and safety programs are a mandatory subject of bargaining.

If you're not in a union -- like my friend Ed Padgett -- organize one. (Not a problem.....)

There's much, much more on behavioral safety in Hazards Magazine.