Scratchie at Work: A Case Study Demonstrating Improved Safety Through Positive Reinforcement

This blog post explores the transformative potential of positive reinforcement in the workplace, particularly within the construction context, and introduces Scratchie as a tool to enhance safety culture and performance.
August 28, 2023
Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.
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Close your eyes and take a moment to recall the last time you received genuine praise for a job well done. Remember the feeling of warmth that spread through your chest, the smile that graced your face, and the sense of accomplishment that filled the air around you.

Simple moments of praise like this can easily become the highlight of our day—a testament to the power of positive reinforcement. Simple though they may seem, research shows these moments carry within them an immense potential to shape our actions, decisions, and attitudes in ways that profoundly impact not only our mood, but also our broader work environment.

Why Positive Reinforcement is the Way

Positive reinforcement isn’t just about a pat on the back or a fleeting compliment. It's about creating a work culture that thrives on appreciation and growth. In the context of a construction site—a dynamic and often risky environment—positive reinforcement goes beyond its traditional understanding.

It becomes a safety net that bolsters adherence to protocols and encourages responsible actions. Understanding how to harness positive reinforcement in this context, therefore, is incredibly important to foster an environment where health and safety are prioritised and everyone looks out for one another's wellbeing.

In this post, we'll explore the transformative potential of positive reinforcement, delving into its effects on workplace culture, individual motivation, and safety in the construction context, using the case-study example of Scratchie to illustrate its power.

Behaviour Modification: A Brief Recap

Before we dive into a discussion of positive reinforcement's transformative power, let's briefly revisit the principles of behaviour modification theory.

As we discussed in our previous post, this theory emerged from the groundbreaking work of American psychologist B.F. Skinner in the early 20th century. Skinner's ingenious experiments, conducted with his renowned Skinner Box, unveiled the connection between consequences and behaviours.

He introduced the idea of reinforcement—the process of associating consequences with actions to shape and modify behaviour. This theory categorises reinforcement into four distinct types:

1. Positive Reinforcement

Providing desirable rewards or consequences after a desired behaviour occurs, increasing the likelihood of its repetition. This method is central to our exploration of positive reinforcement's impact on workplace safety.

2. Negative Reinforcement

Removing or avoiding an aversive stimulus or consequence after a desired behaviour is displayed. This encourages the repetition of the desired behaviour to prevent or escape the aversive experience.

3. Punishment

Applying an aversive consequence or removing a pleasant stimulus after an undesired behaviour is exhibited, aiming to decrease the likelihood of its recurrence.

4. Extinction

Gradual fading away of a behaviour when the usual reinforcement or reward for that behaviour is no longer given. This leads to the eventual decrease and disappearance of the behaviour over time.

Overall, Skinner’s approach represented a remarkable shift in thinking about how to reshape behaviour beyond punishment and in ways that are still utilised today to drive lasting safety transformation on construction sites.

Why Choose Positive Reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement is a proven and powerful tool for motivating employees and increasing productivity. Therefore, researchers recommend prioritising positive reinforcement over negative reinforcement and punishment wherever possible for several compelling reasons.

Among these is the fact that positive reinforcement helps cultivate a positive work environment. With a substantial portion of one's life dedicated to work, it's crucial that the work environment is pleasant, provides growth opportunities, and promotes employee wellbeing rather than fear of reprimand.

A positive and rewarding atmosphere also contributes to employee satisfaction, motivation, and engagement, thereby reducing turnover and associated costs for organisations. Indeed, research dating back to 1946 has demonstrated that feeling appreciated for one's efforts has a significant impact on motivation and job satisfaction.

Positive reinforcement also stands to offer a more personalised experience of being rewarded, which can have stronger and longer-lasting effects. Indeed, positive reinforcement can take various forms, such as monetary compensation, verbal feedback, advancement opportunities, and more. The choice of reinforcement depends on individual preferences and what an employee finds rewarding.

Finally, compared to punishment and negative reinforcement, positive reinforcement techniques have a greater potential to be bolstered by leveraging intrinsic motivation and natural reinforcers. This can include the sense of accomplishment and personal growth that come with learning new skills, or the feelings of connectedness that flow from achieving success together with colleagues.

Scratchie: A Positive Reinforcement Case Study

But what if positive reinforcement could be harnessed with modern technology, transforming it into a dynamic and real-time tool? Enter Scratchie, the app revolutionising the way positive reinforcement is employed on construction sites.

Let’s take a closer look at the three-step process by which Scratchie harnesses and modernises the timeless principles of positive reinforcement for lasting improvements in safety.

Step 1: Recognition of Positive Safety Behaviour

When a construction worker displays exemplary safety behaviour, such as meticulous PPE usage or proactive hazard reporting, it doesn't go unnoticed. Scratchie's positive reinforcement journey begins here, where supervisors observe and appreciate safety-conscious actions.

Upon observing safe behaviour, the supervisor starts by opening the Scratchie app on their device and pressing the “Create award” button.

Step 2: Targeted Acknowledgment

Next, the supervisor identifies a specific category of safety behaviour being demonstrated, such as “electrical protection” or “fall prevention.” This ensures there’s no ambiguity about the reason for which an award is being given.

This categorisation then remains visible in the app, helping users see the types of awards they’ve received in the past.

Step 3: Providing the Award

Next, the app generates a QR code, which can be scanned by the worker using their smartphone. After a suspenseful, five-second countdown, the award is made, and whoever won it can immediately port the cash award to their bank account.

This moment of recognition doesn’t just motivate from a financial perspective. It also…

  • Brings regular awareness to safety, helping to keep it at the forefront of workers’ minds.
  • Provides a sense of competence and self-esteem as workers receive positive feedback for their efforts.
  • Inspires connection as coworkers celebrate each others’ wins and efforts to look out for one another’s wellbeing.

12 Tips for Effective Positive Reinforcement

In the realm of construction sites, where safety is paramount, positive reinforcement emerges as a potent catalyst for fostering a culture of safety-consciousness.

Ultimately, there are many creative ways you can positively reinforce the kind of safety performance you wish to see on your worksites. However, here are some good rules of thumb that tend to apply across the board:

1. Clear Communication & Expectations

Try to be direct and specific about who needs to do what, where, when, and how. By doing so, you’ll ensure all parties are aligned on safety expectations and outcomes, ensuring that positive reinforcement reinforces the specific desired behaviours.

2. Communicate the Rationale

Don’t just insist that workers carry out safety behaviours and blindly reward them for doing so. Instead, explain the rationale behind safety behaviours to workers, and let them know why their actions have made a positive contribution.

3. Meaningful & Sincere Feedback

Each moment of positive reinforcement should communicate a genuine sense of pride in your workers. So be sure to offer meaningful and sincere feedback characterised by a warm and encouraging emotional tone.

4. Provide Feedback Regularly

Try to make reinforcing safety performance a consistent habit, rather than letting it slip when things get busy. By consistently rewarding safe practices you’ll role-model the fact that safety is always valued and should never be overlooked.

5. Be a Role Model

Speaking of role-modelling, make sure that supervisors are demonstrating the behaviours they’re hoping to reinforce among workers. Supervisors who embody safety practices themselves set a powerful example, encouraging others to follow suit.

6. Listen Effectively

Be open to hearing workers’ feedback and concerns about meeting expectations when it comes to safety. By engaging in active listening, you’ll come to understand workers’ perspectives and potential barriers to safety success.

7. Inspire Confidence

Communicate your belief in workers’ abilities to meet expectations. That way, you’ll be pairing positive reinforcement with the opportunity to inspire workers’ self-efficacy—their confidence in their ability to make the worksite safer.

8. Be Realistic

When setting standards for safety reinforcement, ensure your expectations reflect the realistic demands of the work environment. Likewise, make sure your workers have the autonomy and resources to enact the behaviours you hope to see.

9. Connect Safety to Mission

Try to align positive reinforcement with the safety mission of the construction site. That way, you’ll inspire employees to uphold safety standards as an integral part of their role and the organisation’s purpose.

10. Encourage Teamwork

Reinforce teamwork in safety practices, emphasising the collaborative aspect of creating a safe environment. In doing so, you’ll also emphasise the sense of responsibility team members have to look out for the safety and welfare of one another.

11. Stimulate & Empower

Assign safety tasks that challenge workers' understanding and problem-solving skills, promoting a proactive approach to safety. Likewise, empower workers with responsibility for their own safety, reinforcing the idea that safety is a personal commitment.

12. Systematise Positive Reinforcement

To ensure safety is not overlooked, try making positive reinforcement part of a systematic safety-improvement effort by employing useful tools. Our modern, easy-to-use app, Scratchie, is designed to do just this.

By weaving these strategies into the fabric of your construction site's safety culture, you create an environment where safety-consciousness is not only encouraged but also celebrated and rewarded. Through these methods, positive reinforcement becomes a pivotal driver in shaping lasting safety habits, fostering a workplace where every action is rooted in a commitment to safety excellence.

Start Reinforcing Safety with Scratchie

The power of positive reinforcement is undeniable, spanning across various facets of our lives, with a significant impact in the dynamic realm of construction and beyond. By recognising the profound effects of appreciative recognition and intrinsic motivation, we unlock the ability to foster a work environment that not only thrives but excels.

So, the next time you experience that warmth in your chest from a well-deserved acknowledgement, remember that it's not just a fleeting moment—it's a catalyst for growth, a driver of productivity, and a cornerstone of safety.

Curious to learn how Scratchie helps workers thrive on these moments? Join us for our live Procore webinar in August, and learn about the safety solution revolutionising the world’s construction industries.


What is positive reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement is a psychological concept that involves adding a rewarding stimulus after a desired behaviour to increase the likelihood of that behaviour being repeated. In simple terms, it's about rewarding actions we want to see more of, creating a cycle of motivation and success.

How does positive reinforcement differ from negative reinforcement?

While positive reinforcement involves adding a desirable stimulus to encourage a behaviour, negative reinforcement involves removing an aversive stimulus to achieve the same goal.

Both types aim to increase the likelihood of a behaviour's recurrence, but the mechanisms are different: positive reinforcement adds something good, while negative reinforcement removes something unpleasant.

How can positive reinforcement contribute to a better work environment?

Positive reinforcement fosters a culture of appreciation and growth. By acknowledging and rewarding positive behaviours, it creates an environment where employees feel valued, motivated, and empowered. This, in turn, leads to increased job satisfaction, better performance, and reduced turnover.

Is positive reinforcement solely about material rewards?

No, positive reinforcement encompasses a wide range of rewards beyond material gains. Verbal praise, opportunities for skill development, flexible work arrangements, and creating a supportive work environment are all forms of positive reinforcement that contribute to employee satisfaction and success.

Can positive reinforcement be overused?

While positive reinforcement is highly effective, excessive use can lead to desensitisation. If rewards become too frequent or predictable, they may lose their impact over time. It's important to strike a balance between offering meaningful rewards and maintaining the intrinsic motivation of employees.

How can I start implementing positive reinforcement for safety behaviour in my workplace?

Consider leveraging Scratchie, an innovative platform designed to make positive reinforcement seamless and effective. With Scratchie, you can easily customise rewards tailored to your team's preferences, track achievements, and provide instant recognition for outstanding efforts.

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