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Environmental Health and Safety Blog | EHSWire

Using Gamification to Improve Occupational Health and Safety

Posted by Shivi Kakar

Oct 21, 2014 9:42:00 AM

gamification improve occupational health and safetyGamification is described as the concept of applying game mechanics and game design techniques to engage and motivate people to achieve goals. Gamification incorporates a number of psychological concepts—centered on motivation, behavior, and personality traits—to harness people’s basic desires, needs, and impulses for improved status through achievement.

Incentive programs—particularly those focused on incentivizing group achievement (90 days without a reportable accident!)—have been a tool for Safety & Health professionals for decades. But the idea of using gamification and today’s gamification technology to the extent it is used in the commercial world to market products and services is something new for the occupational safety business.

One of the oldest examples of gamification is the Frequent Flyer Program used by airlines and credit cards to generate customer loyalty (Starbucks has a hugely successful gamified loyalty program). It is the gamification mechanics that are so appealing. This refers to the components of a game utilized by game designers to reward activity among customers, employees, etc. The five most commonly used mechanics in gamification are points, badges, levels, leaderboards, and additional challenges. This more individual play requires a competition against oneself and individual achievement, not the zero-sum proposition that many old-style incentive programs sustained. The best part—everyone has the possibility to win!

Gamification has embraced all of the many facets of internet and cellular technology and has evolved rapidly in recent years. Customer loyalty and increased sales aside, the use of gamification has shown growth in improving all types of processes, which holds great promise for any employer trying to improve performance.  In particular, the use of gamification to increase engagement in training programs in on the rise.   

So why not gamify health and safety training and processes? A well-designed game will offer universal attractions. First, it's just fun to win, and in well-designed programs this is quite achievable--eventually.  As the player feels successful, he/she is motivated to continue. The environment is structured "in the box" and unconsciously perceived as safe. As successful interactions accumulate, he/she will feel smart and that they are achieving.  And because of today’s technologies (think Words with Friends) games can also connect with co-workers, adding social value to team safety expectations.

The primary appeal of gamification is that the user accumulates immediate rewards for desired behaviors. With a tangible and attainable goal in sight, there is incentive to follow the suggested course. Impulse control, accumulated after many little immediate gratifications, results in the desired long-term attitudes and behaviors.

But aren't games the territory of the young or the young-ish?  How might an older, more tradition-minded workforce receive the idea of games to reinforce safety habits? The issue here is not so much age as the exposure to game interaction. The first electronic game was introduced in 1966. In 1974 Pong was launched; the rest is history. Perhaps surprisingly, the average game player now is 43 years old—and female. The number of people who are not familiar with and/or comfortable with video, internet and smartphone games is shrinking and will continue to do so.

Emilcott has been developing health and safety programs for our clients for over 25 years—including all types and levels of behavior-based safety training.

Topics: gamify health and safety training and processes, improving occupational health and safety with gami

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