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A Novel Way to Incentivize Safety

A Novel Way to Incentivize Safety: Case Study

By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

Early last year, we began working with a fleet-related company to conduct a comprehensive safety culture assessment. Despite a very strong commitment from their COO, they faced a number of challenges that impacted their safety culture. This included extremely high turnover, excessive time pressure, and insufficient safety ownership. They had recently experienced several fatalities, and their accreditation status was in jeopardy.

After conducting a kickoff session with key stakeholders, we conducted a series of assessment activities, including a safety culture survey, 50+ onsite interviews and focus groups, safety artifact reviews, and onsite observations. Once done, we provided a safety culture assessment report, conducted strategic planning sessions with leaders and front-line employees, provided safety leadership training, and conducted executive coaching with leaders.

In addition to highlighting key strengths to reinforce, we also focused on key areas for improvement, including advancing safety leadership, systems, processes, and hearts/minds of employees. We then lined out 20+ specific recommendations and prioritized them based on risk reduction and ease of implementation. 

One of the key challenges was overriding and overbearing production pressure. This was compounded by insufficient personnel, routing issues, and production-based incentives. During strategic planning, numerous actions were outlined to address this. This included improvements with mapping/routing, bidding practices, driver selection/onboarding/retention, leader time in the field, speed governors on vehicles, and many more activities.

One of the most impactful actions was redesigning their incentive programs to place safety at the forefront. Leaders made a bold move to revamp their driver camera and monitoring system (assessing speed, hard stops, etc.) to focus on positive safety elements and not just violations. Over the years, we have seen many organizations struggle with camera and monitoring systems with fleet personnel. People often view this as “big brother” and feel like their personal liberties are being infringed upon. This organization flipped the script and used its system to reward and reinforce safe driving practices like proper braking, acceleration, and following distance.

The results of this change exceeded expectations. Using their camera/monitoring system in a positive and proactive way reduced their distracted driving events by 91%. They were also able to work with their union to eliminate some of their production-based incentives, which may have driven safety shortcuts (e.g., bypassing guards). As a result, their accreditation status is improving, which will have a profound impact on their ability to do business in the future. They also sent a powerful signal that “safety first” is more than just a slogan.

There’s a lesson learned for leaders. Production pressure is a common challenge that can permeate an organization, especially in fleet services. Finding new and creative ways to reinforce and reward safety is important. In this case, using a (traditionally unpopular) camera/monitoring system in a positive way to reward drivers for operating safely had a profound impact on culture and safety performance. Leaders should find new and creative ways to demonstrate that safety is a core value and that production does NOT trump safety.

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