March 25, 2024

Aligning Executive Pay with the Goal of Fatality Elimination

In the complex landscape of corporate governance, compensation committees and boards of directors face the critical task of designing executive compensation packages that not only drive performance but also align with the organization’s core values and safety improvement strategy. This alignment is crucial in industries where incidents can cost lives. The integration of life-altering injury and fatality (aka SIF) prevention into executive pay structures can be a powerful way to create leadership focus and attention towards the protection of workers. However, this integration is fraught with challenges and dilemmas that require careful consideration and strategic thinking.

The Importance of Aligning Executive Pay with Fatality Elimination

Aligning executive pay with SIF prevention goals serves multiple purposes. Primarily, it signals the organization’s commitment to safety as a core value. A specific alignment to SIF prevention (as opposed to safety in general) further assists the organization in updating its safety improvement strategy to prioritize the elimination of life-altering injuries and fatalities above lesser harms.

Particularly when executives already have compensation tied to other business metrics, the inclusion of SIF prevention in the mix helps ensure that the leadership team has it in full view. Put another way, how can we pay for performance when that performance resulted in someone’s death?

By tying a portion of executive compensation to SIF elimination metrics, companies can create a safety focus that permeates throughout the organization, influencing decision making at all levels.

The benefits of such alignment extend beyond the symbolic. It can lead to tangible improvements in safety outcomes by focusing leadership attention on critical safety processes and systems. When executives have a financial stake in the elimination of workplace fatalities, they are more likely to prioritize investments in engineering controls, technology, and infrastructure. This focus can lead to a reduction in the number and severity of safety incidents, protecting the company’s reputation and saving lives.

Dilemmas in Designing SIF-aligned Compensation Systems

Designing executive compensation systems that effectively integrate SIF prevention goals brings serious challenges. One of the most significant issues is the risk of creating perverse incentives, such as under-reporting of incidents or cutting corners on safety to meet targets. This phenomenon, known as “hitting the target but missing the point,” underscores the difficulty of measuring what truly matters in safety performance.

Another challenge is the potential for false feedback. Safety performance can be influenced by a wide range of factors, many of which are beyond the control of any individual executive. A period of low incident rates may reflect more on luck than on effective safety management. Conversely, a high-performing safety culture might experience a serious incident due to unforeseeable circumstances. Therefore, compensation committees must navigate the fine line between rewarding genuine safety improvements and recognizing the inherent unpredictability of safety outcomes.

Navigating the Complexities: Advice for Compensation Committees and Boards

To address these challenges, compensation committees and boards of directors should consider the following strategies:

  1. Engage in Thorough Dialogue: Before implementing SIF-related performance metrics, engage in a comprehensive dialogue with various stakeholders, including safety experts, to understand the nuances of what drives safety performance in your organization. This conversation should explore the potential unintended consequences of different metrics and incentives.
  2. Reward Decision Making and Behaviors: Focus on rewarding the behaviors and decision-making processes that contribute to a strong safety culture, rather than solely on the outcomes. This approach encourages leaders to invest in proactive safety measures, even if the immediate outcomes are not directly visible.
  3. Educate and Iterate: Recognize that designing the perfect SIF-aligned compensation system is an ongoing process. It requires continuous education of both executives and the broader organization about the importance of safety and the rationale behind the chosen metrics. Be prepared to iterate on your approach as you learn what drives meaningful safety improvements in your organization.
  4. Cultivate a Culture of Safety Excellence: Ultimately, the goal of aligning executive pay with SIF prevention is to cultivate a culture of safety excellence. Compensation is just one tool in achieving this goal. It must be complemented by other efforts, such as leadership development, transparent communication, and continuous learning opportunities related to safety.


For compensation committees and boards of directors, integrating safety incident prevention goals into executive compensation plans presents a unique opportunity to drive organizational focus on safety. While there are significant challenges and dilemmas in designing these systems, the potential benefits in terms of improved safety outcomes and cultural transformation are substantial. By engaging in thoughtful dialogue, focusing on the right behaviors, and committing to continuous improvement, organizations can align their leadership incentives with their safety values, leading to a safer and more sustainable future for all stakeholders.