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An example of an incentive barrier is as follows: A worker doing piecework gets a bonus for the number of parts finished over quota. The worker knows that her machine is due for scheduled maintenance, but she continues to operate it longer than recommended in order to receive more bonus money. The supervisor knows what's going on but decides not to intervene. The worker is rewarded for unsafe performance, resulting in an incentive barrier to proper performance. The worker is reinforced by the bonus money, because misuse of equipment allows more production. Note also a second thing. The supervisor ignores the unsafe behavior and, therefore, doesn't provide direction and guidance. There are times when there may be a fine line between whether the barrier is misuse of incentive or lack of direction or guidance. However, the knowledge regarding the operation of the industry should help make those determinations.

There is a tendency, when discussing incentives in industry, to think in terms of the industry's or the company's incentive/reward program. While the incentive/reward program is important, it is a small part of the concept being presented. The major concerns are those little things that occur or fail to occur after the person responds. While the opportunity for bonuses, promotions, jackets, and the like is important, events such as praise from one's supervisor or coworkers, or treatment from one's work crew, are powerful determinants of behavior. These events, which occur in normal, everyday interactions at the work site, need to be studied to see if an incentive barrier exists.

For example, an individual wears safety glasses, while the rest of the work crew does not. The crew may poke fun at the person until he/she stops wearing the glasses. Being a part of a group and getting support from the group are powerful incentives in determining performance.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has voiced an adverse response to using incentives or rewards since they may discriminate against workers by not giving all workers the rewards or incentives equally, thus defeating the purpose of such reward or incentive to provide motivation for those who perform their work in a safe and healthy manner.

Further Readings

Reese, C.D. Accident/Incident Prevention Techniques (Second Edition). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2012. Reese, C.D. Occupational Health and Safety Management (Third Edition). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2016.

Reese, C.D. and J.V. Eidson. Handbook of OSHA Construction Safety & Health (Second Edition). Boca Raton, FL: CRC/Lewis Publishers, 2006.

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