Health and safety is unsexy and boring.

In fact, of the many elements involved in a project, health and safety is often the least popular. Media coverage of poor practice and ridiculous "elf n' safety" cases helped bring the discipline into disrepute.

Take this recent example: Lancashire County Council banning bunting strung across roads during a festival for safety reasons. The response from a local? “Health and safety gone mad.”

Obstructive, annoying, inefficient, pointless, expensive – these excuses are often muttered when EHS is mentioned at work.

So much so, many workers are downright hostile to health and safety rules. As a result, those workers become a danger to themselves and their colleagues.

Read more: 9 Signs You're an EHS Manager in 2019 »

Now, this is where ‘gamification’ comes into play. Making health and safety fun engages workers and keeps them safe on site.

What is gamification?

Despite the unfriendly name, gamification uses game elements to make learning more engaging. In other words, making health and safety like a game.

However, this does not reduce it to a series of childish exercises. Instead, it exploits the three principles of modern gaming: an overall mission (sense of purpose), a challenge, and a reward.

Integrating these elements into a training regime can make health and safety fun and better engage employees on all levels.

Reward employees for investing time, effort and attention in the mission, and for beating the challenges. Make it part of the ongoing program of continuous improvement.

What does gamification actually look like?

As expected from a relatively new, novel approach, gamified learning models vary widely.

For example, the learning regimes of the construction and retail industries are very different. However, the underlying principles remain the same.

It may sound  crazy, but a well-known UK food manufacturer recently tested out the gamification concept using a board game.

"Many workers are completey disengaged form the rules keeping them safe on site. Gamification helps employees understand their valauble role in health and safety issues."

The chain used a board game where employees had to collect Safety Points through their safety knowledge and skills.

Unsafe acts or unsafe conditions would send the team backward, and at the end of the game employees had to decide on two actions they were going to take towards making the workplace safer.

Employees enjoyed playing the game. Also, the good-natured banter between teams introduced some friendly competition.

People wanted to win, and winning meant using and sharing personal health and safety expertise.

Is this ‘dumbing down’ health and safety?

According to the educators' review of this gamification experiment, fun is absolutely critical for a long-term successful training program.

As workers actively engaged with the game, they retained the principles taught. Also, it made participants likely to uphold health and safety standards while working.

Game playing may sound childish, or even like we're dumbing down of the most important workplace function. However, gamification is about engagement, not trivialisation.

In reality, many workers are completely disengaged from the rules keeping them safe on site.

Without context or input, workers see themselves as being subject to, rather than involved in, these processes. Even worse, many workers simply feel alienated.

Gamification uses fun in overcoming this sense of alienation. It helps employees understand their valuable role in health and safety issues. Their retained knowledge and experience is the difference between safe and unsafe workplaces – encourage them to play their part.

In other words, health and safety don’t have to be a bore. Make health and safety fun, and reinforce the principles your staff need to work safely.

Playing safe on site

Gamification doesn’t have to end in the training room. Gentle competition can raise EHS standards on site too.

For instance, you could reward employees for identifying and correcting safety issues. This approach encourages workers to be more proactive in protecting themselves and their colleagues.

With careful planning, you could create a health and safety league awarding points for injury-free working. This encourages teams to look out for each other's welfare and exercise health and safety best practices.

A level of competition encourages workers to learn more about what they are doing, and how to carry out tasks more safely.

Each team can accrue points, and at the end of a specified period, the highest scorers are rewarded in some way. Just make sure the prize is worth their hard work!

There are 10 categories of incentive prizes:

  1. Recognition
  2. Time off
  3. Stock ownership
  4. Special assignments
  5. Advancement
  6. Increased autonomy
  7. Training and education
  8. Social gatherings
  9. Prizes
  10. Money

As you can see, there's plenty to choose from. Now, let's look to the HSE for prize ideas:

  • One off prize for individuals or groups
  • Prize draw for workers who observed safe behaviour
  • Moral incentive - £1 goes to charity for every safety observation, training and event attendance
  • Leave early on a Friday
  • Instant rewards – worker given a small prize immediately for their safe behaviour
  • Given a certificate

Research shows that the most efficient incentives have a higher personal than monetary value. For example, peer recognition through obtaining a certificate or getting placed on the ‘wall of fame’.

To clarify, on-site rivalry is healthy – when carefully managed.

The site controller must carefully monitor the progress and performance of their teams – and step in quickly if there is a risk of competitiveness going too far. Otherwise, the element of fun quickly disappears, and people begin to disengage again.

Next steps with gamification

Effective gamification requires careful planning and a good dash of creativity – it’s not something that spontaneously happens at the next toolbox talk.

The board game is one example of how gamification might work – but it may not be the right approach for your business and employees.

For further help and advice, you should secure the services of a health and safety expert like Veritas Consulting. Our team can expose the various knowledge gaps in your team, and to identify opportunities for fun that will re-engage employees.

Keep reading: Do Safety Incentive Programs Really Work?

Microsoft 365: An EHS Platform  No-Brainer? Is it right or wrong for you? Decide with this PDF →


  • David Cant

    David Cant is the director of Veritas Consulting and is a Chartered member of the Institute of Occupational Safety & Health (IOSH). A resourceful professional with an impressive 20+ years industry knowledge and experience who adds value by working alongside ambitious clients, collaboratively and openly.

    View all posts

Leave a Reply