Turner Bros. Wins Safety Game with Behavioral Incentives

Source: The Bill Sims Company, Inc.
Turner Bros. Wins Safety Game with Behavioral Incentives
One of the biggest problems with safety programs is that they are boring to everyone except safety directors, who have an interest based on professional choice...

by Garry M. Ritzky
People Performance Magazine

One of the biggest problems with safety programs is that they are boring to everyone except safety directors, who have an interest based on professional choice. Thus, a big part of the safety director's job is to answer the question: How can the company make safety interesting enough to all employees to improve results?

Safety professionals often find themselves playing the role of the drill sergeant in an organization. Here's why: Safety requires discipline -- doing something the right way, even when a shortcut appears quite harmless. Safety also requires repetition -- reinforcing the same basic concepts over and over again.

Hardly anyone finds fun in discipline and repetition. And most people think accidents happen to someone else, not them. So you need something to break the routine and boredom involved in safety and market the difficult concepts of discipline and repetition. Can safety be made into a game with reducing the seriousness of the subject? If safety were a fun game to play, would it be easier to market internally?

The answers to those questions proved to be "yes" for Turner Bros. Trucking Inc., an oil-field transportation company with fewer than 300 employees. Based in Oklahoma City, the company provides transportation, drilling rig-up and rig-down services, crane rental, drill pipe testing, and storage services to the petroleum and refining industry in Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado.

Since 1992, the company has concentrated on programs that enhance safety using the behavioral theories of Chris Agyris, Frederick Herzberg, Abraham Maslow, Jean Piaget and B.F. Skinner. Several theories of those social scientists were converted into concrete programs:

  • Immediate monetary rewards for safety (Piaget).
  • Self-directed safety teams to increase ownership and investment in company safety and productivity (Herzberg).
  • Behavioral observation of one another by workers, productivity bonuses that include a safety component and measurement of learning from defensive driving courses by third-party road observations (Skinner).

We added one more program -- monthly self-evaluation of management teams, which includes extra compensation for performance.

The company's efforts prove that you don't have to be "touchy-feely" to take behavioral theories seriously. Turner Bros. behavioral safety program runs on hard numbers, specific statistics and tough monthly criteria that measure success and failure. The results are posted monthly on colorful graphs to all to see.

While incident rates, accidents per million miles and workers' compensation experience modifiers have been retained as safety performance measurements, additional short-term benchmarks were implemented to give each team a monthly reading of its safety performance. The new measurements offered the opportunity to create a game to achieve safety goals that would benefit employees and produce loss-control results for the company.

We started by asking: What constitutes a game? What kind of competition, rewards and recognition are best?

Rewards for Good Players
To encourage field employees to monitor safety, the company began giving monthly awards to those work teams. First we determined the average historical losses at each team location, then lowered those by 30 percent to set a new achievable benchmark. Successful achievement of the new goal rewarded each team member with work gloves,jackets, and other prizes, as long as the new threshold remained at an improvement level of 30 percent.

The results:

  1. No team has lost its gloves in four years.
  2. Most of the teams have received coveralls for about half the months.
  3. Safety has become al lot more fun and interesting.

Probably the most significant result is that every glove and coverall represent a concrete, tangible reward for achievement of safety goals.

Skinner might call each glove and coverall a "positive reinforcement." Piaget might call gloves and coveralls concrete, not abstract, communication, and most people involved in Turner Bros. program respond better to concrete concepts than to abstract ideas. Agyris might agree that receiving gloves and coveralls is evidence of movement from dependence to independence.

Herzberg might warn managers that higher wages, or gloves and coveralls, by themselves do not necessarily "make people happy or satisfied." Gloves and coveralls are simple "extrinsic" (external) rewards that illustrate concrete evidence of an "intrinsic" (internal) accomplishment or gain.

While the rewards certainly do not constitute "self-actualization" as Maslow envisions the term. employee satisfaction in achieving the goals on their own could be considered a serious step in that direction. The value is not in the fabric of gloves and coveralls but in the human dynamics that demonstrate, "We were successful -- we did that." Herzberg might even let us speculate that these accomplishments produced a small unit of self-fulfillment, or esteem, which is the substance of his hierarchy of needs theory.

The gloves and coveralls worked so well that the company tried a direct monetary incentive. If losses remain under $300 per month per team, each team member receives a monthly incentive check for a $50 gift.

After 3 consecutive months, the $50 amount is doubled. The program became known as "Don't Fool With My Fifty." Employees have been successful between 50 percent and 70 percent of the total months worked since 1992.

The interesting behavioral factor: All team members receive the award, or no one does. anyone who prevents the entire team for receiving the safety bonus is definitely subject to peer pressure. This probably works better than fear of disciplinary action to encourage safe operations. With these positive and negative motivations in place, the safety professional can hang up the police whistle and take off the drill sergeant's cap.

Employees Observe One Another's Behavior
The most interesting of the behavioral experiments has been with a self-directed safety team assigned to move the drilling rigs. Team members observe one another at work and report their observations at the next morning's meeting. Lists of good and bad behaviors are reported, without names.

A rotating group of employees check good and bad columns on a sheet of 37 identified behaviors over a two-year period, with the help of team members. Equipment operators make the observations during idle moments as they sit in their cranes, forklifts and ginpole trucks. The office manager helps them compile their observations into a monthly report that critiques the strengths and weaknesses of each job.

The observers are fairly objective when it comes to their peers, reporting both good and bad behaviors. They know that next month someone else will be reporting on them. If an observer reports a problem with company equipment, the problem is fixed immediately.

Bottom Line Results
For several years prior to 1992, all lines of insurance premiums and all self-funded losses exceeded 12 percent of gross revenue. As of Dec. 31, 1997, that number 4.03 percent, including the cost of incentives along with insurance premiums and self-funded losses (see chart). The difference between 12 percent and 4.03 percent adds to the bottom line, giving the organization a much better chance of showing profit in a cyclical and normally unstable oil-field environment.

In Texas alone, injury losses were reduced by 99 percent from 1992 through 1997. That produced measurable "satisfaction" in the accounting office and in operations. The company-wide trucking insurance policy was reduced by 75 percent during the same period. that, too, made management very happy.

With the safety program in place, Turner Bros. may have avoided some of the usual labor relations problems precisely because the operators participate -- and participation is power -- in matters that affect their lives. Managers still manage and supervisors still supervise, although we would like to think the management philosophy has moved toward a coaching style.

On the whole, the results of behavior-oriented approaches have paid the company good dividends. The changes have certainly moved safety away from the image of "policing." Employees have put an additional three percent to 11 percent compensation in their pockets each year. The company saves on insurance premiums and pays out less money to adjusters and attorneys.

In short the company has no second thoughts about paying for safety, because it works. In the end, it has made safety a lot more fun.

Safety Cost Analysis for Turner Bros. Trucking
Percentages indicate that increases in safety program and incentive costs result in decreases in insurance premiums and total costs.

*Includes premiums for all lines of insurance, safety program costs, all self-funded losses and employee incentives.

The Bill Sims Company, Inc.
102 Lake Vista, PO Box 21008
Columbia, South Carolina 29210
United States
Phone: 800-690-1860
Fax: 803-345-0315

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