Don’t Let Your Driver Safety Incentive Program Spell Trouble with OSHA

moneyThere’s been a surge of interest in fleet safety/driver safety incentive programs to capture the attention of drivers and influence a stronger focus on driving safely to avoid crashes, and resulting damages. 

We’ve seen many clients incorporate various reward programs into their efforts with impressive short-term results and questionable long-term sustainability.  Our recent article “Motivating Drivers to Make Safer Choices” (LINK) offers basic, foundational advice to bolster results before approaching incentives.

However you stack up your fleet safety incentive efforts, be certain that you are NOT digging a deeper hole on your Worker’s Compensation / Workplace Injury compliance efforts.

OSHA had put out a memorandum (LINK) on this issue in March of last year, and its relative importance has been recently re-surfaced among safety networks.

In part the memo states:

There are several types of workplace policies and practices that could discourage reporting and could constitute unlawful discrimination and a violation of section 11(c) and other whistleblower protection statutes. Some of these policies and practices may also violate OSHA’s recordkeeping regulations, particularly the requirement to ensure that employees have a way to report work-related injuries and illnesses. 29 C.F.R. 1904.35(b)(1). I list the most common potentially discriminatory policies below. OSHA has also observed that the potential for unlawful discrimination under all of these policies may increase when management or supervisory bonuses are linked to lower reported injury rates. While OSHA appreciates employers using safety as a key management metric, we cannot condone a program that encourages discrimination against workers who report injuries.[emphasis added]

It continues by citing several scenarios that would be considered problematic, and then delivers this message of mixed cautions and positive suggestions:

Finally, 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 been injured in the previous year in a drawing to win a prize, or a team of employees might be awarded a bonus if no one from the team is injured over some period of time. 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, such as identifying hazards or participating in investigations of injuries, incidents or “near misses”. OSHA’s VPP Guidance materials refer to a number of positive incentives, including providing tee shirts to workers serving on safety and health committees; offering modest rewards for suggesting ways to strengthen safety and health; or throwing a recognition party at the successful completion of company-wide safety and health training. See Revised Policy Memo #5 – Further Improvements to VPP (June 29, 2011).

Incentive programs that discourage employees from reporting their injuries are problematic because, under section 11(c), an employer may not “in any manner discriminate” against an employee because the employee exercises a protected right, such as the right to report an injury. FRSA similarly prohibits a railroad carrier, contractor or subcontractor from discriminating against an employee who notifies, or attempts to notify, the railroad carrier or the Secretary of Transportation of a work-related personal injury. If an employee of a firm with a safety incentive program reports an injury, the employee, or the employee’s entire work group, will be disqualified from receiving the incentive, which could be considered unlawful discrimination.[emphais added] One important factor to consider is whether the incentive involved is of sufficient magnitude that failure to receive it “might have dissuaded reasonable workers from” reporting injuries. Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White, 548 U.S. 53, 68 (2006).

In addition, if the incentive is great enough that its loss dissuades reasonable workers from reporting injuries, the program would result in the employer’s failure to record injuries that it is required to record under Part 1904. In this case, the employer is violating that rule, and a referral for a recordkeeping investigation should be made. If the employer is a railroad carrier, contractor or subcontractor, a violation of FRA injury-reporting regulations may have occurred and a referral to the FRA may be appropriate. This may be more likely in cases where an entire workgroup is disqualified because of a reported injury to one member, because the injured worker in such a case may feel reluctant to disadvantage the other workgroup members.

So if you employ drivers and operate an incentive plan that rewards reductions in injuries (even if related to Motor Vehicle Crashes), you should consider whether your program could present issues with OSHA.

Another safety professional recently posted this suggestion (LINK) to help with incentive programs (and this is his own opinion, not necessarily reflective of SafetyFirst’s opinions):

An incentive program based on reporting of observations and near misses produces more and better results than zero accident/recordable programs, because it acknowledges the reality  that injuries or incidents will occur. When used correctly, leading indicators identify breakdowns or weaknesses before they become a problem.

Here are just two of many ideas for leading indicator incentive programs:

  • Establish goals for the number of observations reported: Be creative! This can be applied organization-wide, by department and at the employee level.
  • Near-Miss Committee: This is a function outside the traditional safety committee. Typically a near-miss investigation only involves management. This approach encompasses other personnel, including employees who can assist with root-cause analysis and prevention.

These types of programs still give the employee’s an incentive to be attentive to safety. 

To the extent that you may want to leverage observation reporting and near miss reporting, you may want to investigate our How’s My Driving Hotline program and MVR profiling programs.  Each is linked to robust online reporting, including 4-digit SIC benchmarking and easy telematics integration.  Neither program discourages reporting of actual injuries, but could be a surrogate / stand-in for incentive metrics.

Changing your reporting metrics from counting injuries to counting telematics alerts, camera-in-cabin events, how’s my driving reports and other factors may be helpful in reducing risk while avoiding the temptation for employees to suppress proper reports of actual workplace injuries.

Incentives for Safe Driving?

One of the most common search terms used in the past six months by fleet safety managers is “Driver Incentive Program”.  A recent article states;

Another traffic pic“There is little question that keeping company vehicle drivers, their passengers, and the public safe is the single most important responsibility a fleet manager has. From vehicle selection to specification to policy, safety should be a primary force in decision-making.”

“One method used by many companies to help make safety efforts successful is implementing a safe driving incentive program. Using various measurements, drivers whose safety records are exemplary are rewarded.”

“But if the basis for the program is merely “no accidents = cash,” the overall goal of achieving a safety culture among drivers won’t be met. Here are some tips to remember when you want your safety program to have maximum effectiveness.”

READ MORE? Click Here.

Additionally, a case study of particular note, titled “PAY INCENTIVES AND TRUCK DRIVER SAFETY: A CASE STUDY” conducted by the team of DANIEL A. RODRÍGUEZ, FELIPE TARGA, and MICHAEL H. BELZER was brought to my attention by a colleague.  The study summary states:

“This paper explores the safety consequences of increasing truck driver pay. The test case the authors examine involves a large over-the-road truckload firm that on February 25, 1997, raised wages an average of 39.1%. An analysis that controls for demographic and operational factors, including prior driving experience and experience acquired on the job, suggests that for drivers employed during the lower pay regime and retained in the higher pay regime, crash incidence fell. A higher pay rate also led to lower separation probability, but this indirect effect only translated into fewer crashes by increasing the retention of older, more experienced drivers. These findings suggest that human capital characteristics are important predictors of driver safety, but that motivational and incentive factors also are influential “

The study can be found by clicking HERE.

Finally, the FMCSA has previously published information designed to help pave the way forFMCSA Retention brief fleets who are struggling to reduce their UNSAFE DRIVER “BASIC” scores and want to examine incentives as part of that process. represents one of these FREE resources that many fleet managers are unaware exist.


Many fleets have worked with incentive programs and they either LOVE them or HATE them — the keys to success focus on simple issues:

  1. The drivers need to buy in to the program — if the incentives offered are unappealing, they won’t influence behavior
  2. Goals need to be reasonable and achievable.  If the drivers feel that the goals are unrealistic, they may give up before really trying to attain them
  3. Communication between management and drivers is very important — if the drivers don’t understand parts of the program, how it gets administered, or what they need to do, they can become very frustrated.  It’s also helpful to provide periodic feedback on progress to keep everyone encouraged and working towards a common goal.
  4. Keep it simple.  There is always a temptation to make things complicated.  Keeping the program as simple as possible makes it easier to communicate goals, methods and progress.  If something isn’t working well, it’s also easier to change things than when the program is highly complex.

The team at SafetyFirst may be able to help you further!  Give us a call to discuss our programs and resources. 1-888-603-6987

The “Bookend BASICs” of CSA

cropped-truck-traffic.jpgOver the road movement of goods and passengers in heavy vehicles is a “mission critical” component of our economy.  As the saying goes; “Without Trucks, America Stops!”  Since heavy transport is so critical, it is equally vital that the drivers and companies responsible for their safe operation be held accountable to reasonable, consistent, and measurable standards.

Since the 1970s, governmental agencies and other stakeholders have been responsible to establish and monitor these standards with the purpose of improving roadway safety results.  Along the way, revisions have been made to the standards, how motor carrier operations have been evaluated and what methods are used to communicate violations and the need to improve their compliance efforts.

E-DriverFileNow, the CSA program is being introduced to help target poorly performing motor carriers before they stray far out of compliance, and the targeting method is based on reported safety results.

The CSA model redefines the performance measurement system.  In the past we had SafeStat scores based on Safety Evaluation Areas (SEA) tied to Accidents, Drivers, Vehicles and Safety Management.  Now, carrier performance will be tied to seven Behavior Analysis Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs)1:

  • Unsafe DrivingOperation of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) by drivers in a dangerous or careless manner. Example Violations: Speeding, reckless driving, improper lane change, and inattention. (FMCSR Parts 392 and 397)
  • Fatigued Driving (Hours-of-Service)Operation of CMVs by drivers who are ill, fatigued, or in non-compliance with the Hours-of-Service (HOS) regulations. This BASIC includes violations of regulations pertaining to logbooks as they relate to HOS requirements and the management of CMV driver fatigue. Example Violations: HOS, logbook, and operating a CMV while ill or fatigued. (FMCSR Parts 392 and 395)
  • Driver FitnessOperation of CMVs by drivers who are unfit to operate a CMV due to lack of training, experience, or medical qualifications. Example Violations: Failure to have a valid and appropriate commercial driver’s license and being medically unqualified to operate a CMV. (FMCSR Parts 383 and 391)
  • Controlled Substances/AlcoholOperation of CMVs by drivers who are impaired due to alcohol, illegal drugs, and misuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications. Example Violations: Use or possession of controlled substances/alcohol. (FMCSR Parts 382 and 392)
  • Vehicle Maintenance Failure to properly maintain a CMV. Example Violations: Brakes, lights, and other mechanical defects, and failure to make required repairs. (FMCSR Parts 393 and 396)
  • Cargo-RelatedFailure to properly prevent shifting loads, spilled or dropped cargo, overloading, and unsafe handling of hazardous materials on a CMV. Example Violations: Improper load securement, cargo retention, and hazardous material handling. (FMCSR Parts 392, 393, 397 and HM Violations)
  • Crash IndicatorHistories or patterns of high crash involvement, including frequency and severity. It is based on information from State-reported crashes.

Under this BASIC approach, whenever a driver receives a violation for unsafe driving, hours of service, fitness, controlled substances/alcohol, unfit vehicle condition, or cargo issues, it will directly affect the safety score for the motor carrier who has engaged their services as either a contractor or employee.  The Crash Indicator will be based on state-reported crashes.  The ultimate goal is to use these component BASICs to establish an overall score.  That score will be compared to the rest of the industry based on fleet size to “rank” your efforts against others.  Operations with poor standing will receive an intervention to help them improve their results.

The “Bookends” of the BASICs

Each of the BASICs is important; however, it’s no coincidence that the first and last BASIC listed are “unsafe driving” and “crash indicator”:  each serves as an anchor for the whole safety program.  How?

First of all, each is the most public expression of your team’s commitment to safety discipline:  a failure to exercise strong discipline in working with your drivers may result in greater violations, and ultimately, crashes.  On the other hand, well trained, disciplined and motivated drivers who display no reason to be pulled over (due to their consistent on-the-job performance) will:

  • Pay fewer fines out of pocket
  • Maintain a cleaner MVR / Driver Abstract
  • Have less down time due to avoidable violations/inspections
  • Be somewhat less likely to receive additional violations related to their equipment, cargo or log books (assuming that a speeding ticket could open the door to greater scrutiny of these areas by the initiating police officer, etc.)
  • Place a greater emphasis on vehicle self-inspections and getting repairs completed to avoid down-time and violations from roadside inspections.

In fact, the carrier’s measurement for each BASIC depends on2:

  • The number of adverse safety events (violations related to that BASIC or crashes)
  • The severity of violations or crashes
  • When the adverse safety events occurred (more recent events are weighted more heavily).

Therefore, minimizing crash events accomplishes several, equally important objectives:  preserve the wellness of your drivers; maintain a lower score; keep out of the public eye; keep insurance rates competitive and predictable; preserve the resale value or service life of company owned/leased vehicles.

Renewables Report

To shift unsafe driving towards consistently safe driving, commercial fleets have relied on programs like: driver education; driver safety hotlines; electronic profiling of drivers based on their violation and crash data; various on-board technologies to monitor and modify behavior.  Insurance carriers, private research boards and for-profit safety vendors are regularly investigating ways to help fleets reduce unsafe driving.  Progressive fleet operators don’t look for a single “silver bullet” solution.  Instead they use a layered approach – piling one method on top of another to get the best coverage and the fewest gaps in their total safety effort.

Accident Analysis

A second reason that the bookends serve as anchors is that they signal the start line and TeleMaticsfinish line to your safety “race” – it starts with a commitment to measure, manage, and motivate your driver’s best behind-the-wheel performance (replacing “unsafe” driving with “safe” driving) and finishes with improved safety results (fewer crashes).   The monitoring of crash rates also helps your team to determine if they’re getting better or worse at modifying driver performance.  While CSA 2010 monitors only “state reported” crashes, progressive safety teams often measure all crash events (even minor physical damage-only type claims) to build a cushion into the program.  If the “all events” gauge gets into the red-zone, they have a little breathing room since the BASIC considers “state reported” only.  Using a driver management database (i.e. E-Driver File, to record and report crash events can help you manage these metrics for both internal reporting and CSA dashboarding.

What about the other BASICs?  Fatigue management, driver fitness, controlled substance use, and to some degree, cargo-related issues are tied to how the management team and drivers work together.  A lot of your efforts to encourage safe driving (training, communications plans, incentives, progressive discipline, can have a direct impact on these areas, too.  When drivers clearly understand your expectations and they recognize that meaningful support is being provided, they should perform consistently in recordkeeping, wellness and cargo securement procedures.

Vehicle maintenance depends on effective self-inspection and repairs being carried out in a timely fashion.  Like avoiding unsafe driving maneuvers, drivers have to bear the responsibility to take appropriate action when they recognize a defect.

Keeping the BASICs, well, basic…

Large_Trucks_Cover_Front-300x287Someone once said “rule number one is not to sweat the small stuff and rule number two is that it’s all small stuff”.  I don’t know if that’s really true, but I do know one thing from working with many hundreds of trucking fleets:  those who seem to “have their act together” focus on keeping their bookends under control.  They help their drivers stay safe through aggressive candidate screening and a lot of communication (feedback, coaching, training, etc.).  They’re also fanatics about measuring to see how well they’re doing (using lots of tools and methods).  When they get these “bookends” done right, the stuff in between the bookends tends to be less stressful to manage, and they enjoy a healthy working relationship with the bulk of their drivers.

If you need help shifting driver performance from unsafe to safe, or in recording and measuring crash rates, please consider contacting our company – SafetyFirst.  Our current, active client base is over 3,800 commercial fleets representing more than 200,000 vehicles.  I’m confident that we can support your fleet, too.


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2 – Ibid.