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Gamification (Or… How to Engage Young Workers With Workplace Safety)

by Joe Geng on May 22, 2015

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Good safety processes are constantly evolving, and good safety managers acknowledge that. The modern workplace has a stronger emphasis on safety training and the modern workforce learns differently today than they did 30 years ago. It stands to reason that to get through to the younger workforce, good safety managers need to adapt their safety message and for good reason…

Young workers, aged 15 to 24, are twice as likely to go to the hospital because of a workplace accident. It makes sense in a way, young workers are less experienced, less knowledgeable about hazards in the workplace and they don’t weigh risks the same way that their older counterparts do.

How do you get your safety message through to the most at-risk group?

More and more studies suggest using gamification as the new way to train, motivate and engage employees.

Gamification is the ten-dollar word using the elements of game playing, like point-scoring, friendly competition with others and rules of play.


How Does Gamification Work?

Gamification harnesses the parts of our minds that are used when playing board games – like game thinking and mechanics – in non-game contexts.

This might mean awarding points or badges, including levels, or having teams, challenges and goals.

Anyone who has ever been stuck in a stuffy meeting room for two hours watching workplace safety videos knows how ineffective this training is.

By including points, levels, challenges, and hands-on interactions, it can keep the attention of younger workers and keep them more engaged.

The idea is that people are more motivated to learn important concepts because they’re attracted to the fun aspects of the game. It’s like how The Game of Life board game teaches you the importance of saving your money because one roll of the dice can land you with six kids you can’t support.


How it Works in the Safety World:

Gamification has found its way into the world of safety by providing a platform for changing old methods. Training and safety engagement have both seen an influx of initiatives based on gamification.

Some organizations encourage employees to take online quizzes after safety training classes; successful attempts at the quiz earn users virtual tokens that can be used to redeem prizes. This has helped employees become more engaged with their training sessions and ultimately raise their information retention rates. Others have used gamification to encourage participation by dividing workers into teams that were tasked with coming up with new safety initiatives aimed at reducing common injuries on site. The team with the strategy that was voted to be the most likely to be effective in reducing incidents won prizes. The element of competition forced employees to think creatively and actively engage in problem solving techniques aimed at safety.

Hand injuries account for almost thirty-three percent of all injuries at work, twenty-five percent of lost time injuries, and twenty percent of permanent disability claims. This costs organizations millions each year. Hand injuries occur in most industries simply because the work is done almost exclusively with employees’ hands. Much attention has been paid to matching the correct gloves to mitigate job hazards and how to get employees to wear them. Attaining appropriate personal protective equipment is always the first step in injury prevention; getting employees to use the appropriate equipment is the next hurdle.

Behavior Based Safety (BBS) processes have provided a means by which continuous improvement can be applied to safety, but even the best behavioral processes don’t entirely prevent injury. Hand injuries account for most of the incidents even in organizations with successful, longstanding Behavior Based Safety Processes. These processes can be supplemented effectively using elements of gamificaiton – engaging employees while reinforcing the desired behaviors.

A recent application of gamification was used to promote hand placement awareness in a regional oil refinery. The initial study was done with a single workgroup. Gloves were always worn, but injuries were still occurring. The group was chosen based on the hand placement risk inherent in their job. Another element used to choose the group was their higher risk rates relative to other workgroups in indicators that relate with hand injuries. The initiative was introduced to employees as the “Glove Game.”

Refinery workgroups were asked to recognize their own and others’ hand placement. Several hand injuries had occurred earlier in the year and the data suggested that one was in the near future. In order to get ahead of the risk, the safety team decided to try out a gamification initiative to raise the awareness of employees. A bucket was left outside of their break area with directions and several green and yellow cards. Employees were instructed to put a green card in the bucket every time they or someone they worked with performed a task while maintaining hand safety. This could mean they have their gloves on, are avoiding pinch points, keeping their hands and fingers out of the line of fire, etc.

Workers put a yellow card in the bucket for every instance of peer behavior that put their fellow-workers’ hands at risk of injury. Examples of this included putting fingers on the underside of a box while setting it down, placing hands in between moving parts of machinery, not wearing gloves etc. This did not include events that happens or could happen by chance. More explicitly, “if I dropped it, I would be injured,” did not count as a risk because that event was not due to one’s own behavior. It had to be an action that put the person at risk for an injury such as slowly losing grip on a box and not setting it down to readjust the hold.

The bucket and colored cards facilitated a simple design and a limited response cost from involved employees. A baseline was taken where employees placed colored cards in the bucket and BBS coordinators counted these to calculate the percentage of observed behavior as safe versus at-risk. This lasted three weeks.

Subsequently the gamification element was added. Each employee had two pairs of gloves, one that was black/brown and another that was fluorescent orange. When an employee saw another employee putting their hands at risk they would point it out and that employee would have to replace their regular gloves with their second pair of bright orange ones. Employees with the orange gloves would be “IT” (think about the game of “tag”) and therefore would be on the look-out for others putting their hands at risk. Workers could only remove their orange gloves when someone else has been spotted with their hands in a precarious place and “tagged”. Then the next person had to wear the orange gloves and so forth. The group dynamics were very important. The workgroups were very close and participated in gentle ribbing on a regular basis; this allowed the orange gloves to take on a friendly rather than punitive tone. No supervisor was involved and no negative ramifications followed orange glove wearing.


The results indicated that the game had a dramatic effect on hand placement and awareness. The average hand injury risk at the start was 54% calculated from the yellow cards. During the glove game hand injury risk dropped to 18%.

Ongoing Behavior-Based Safety (BBS) observations also revealed an increase in awareness of hand injury risk. For example, observations of hands inserted in pinch points were marked only 48% of the time before the game. However, after the glove game these observations rose to 65%, suggesting that the game got workers to look for hand safety behaviors outside the game. Further, the prevalence of line of fire observations on BBS cards, also related to hand placement, rose from 43% to 70%. Furthermore, comments about hands on BBS cards began to increase in volume and depth.

The gamification of awareness training worked in this case study and it can work for you. Hand injuries continue to plague industries worldwide. Using elements of gamification can help to engage your workforce and revitalize involvement in your safety process. By designing training and other safety processes with the user in mind organizations can evolve with the workforce and remain competitive for future talent.

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