Safety Incentive Programs Irk OSHA

Friday, October 5, 2012 @ 02:10 PM gHale

By Nicholas Sheble
The “bloody-pocket syndrome” is where workers would rather conceal their own injuries than lose bonuses or jobs if they report their situation or their accident becomes official.

People in the industry call it the bloody-pocket syndrome from such a hypothetical circumstance where an employee cuts his hand while operating a metal lathe and rather than get first aid and or see the company nurse, he merely sticks the hand in his or her pocket thereby imparting blood to the pocket.

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It’s an injury that could and should receive attention but there’s no severed limb lying on the floor in a puddle of gore. It’s a matter of judgment and severity.

This is a violation of law on several fronts says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Employers are the cause, they say.

Recently, OSHA issued a memorandum Employer Safety Incentive and Disincentive Policies and Practices directing its field compliance officers and “whistleblower” investigative staff to beef up their enforcement of rules that address work-related reporting of injuries and illnesses.

This memorandum targets employers who have implemented safety incentive programs that discourage workers from reporting injuries and who may have a policy that requires disciplinary action against employees injured on the job, who violate injury reporting guidelines, or who violate a safety rule.

OSHA has observed that the potential for unlawful discrimination may increase when management or supervisory bonuses depend on lower reported injury rates.

OSHA says it appreciates employers using safety as a key management metric, but it does not condone a program that encourages discrimination against workers who report injuries.

OSHA says the most common potentially discriminatory policies relate to the following activities and circumstances:
• Employers who have a policy of taking disciplinary action against employees injured on the job regardless of the circumstances surrounding the injury. Reporting an injury is always a protected activity says OSHA.
• An employee who reports an injury or illness ends up disciplined and the stated reason is the employee has violated an employer rule about the time or manner for reporting injuries and illnesses. OSHA recognizes employers have a legitimate interest in establishing procedures for receiving and responding to reports of injuries. Nevertheless, the rules cannot penalize workers who do not realize immediately their injuries are serious enough to report, or even they have an injury at all.
• From one report to the agency, an employee reports an injury and the employer imposes discipline on the ground the injury resulted from the violation of a safety rule by the employee. OSHA encourages employers to maintain and enforce legitimate workplace safety rules in order to eliminate or reduce workplace hazards and prevent injuries from occurring in the first place. Vague rules, such as a requirement that employees “maintain situational awareness” or “work carefully” may end up used as a pretext for unlawful discrimination. Enforcing a rule more stringently against injured employees than noninjured employees may suggest the rule is a pretext for discrimination and against the law.
• Some employers establish programs that unintentionally or intentionally provide employees an incentive to not report injuries. For example, an employer might enter all employees who have not suffered in injury in the previous year in a drawing to win a prize, or a team of employees might receive a bonus if no one from the team suffers an injury over some period. OSHA says such programs might be well-intentioned efforts by employers to encourage their workers to use safe practices. However, there are better ways to encourage safe work practices, such as incentives that promote worker participation in safety-related activities, like identifying hazards or participating in investigations of injuries, incidents, or near misses.
Nicholas Sheble ( is an engineering writer and technical editor in Raleigh, NC.

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