159 Token Economy & Job Safety

Based on research by Fox, D.K., Hopkins, B.L., & Anger, W.K. (1987), written by Byron Wine, Ph.D., BCBA-D.

Can research from over 25 years ago still be an effective technique used to improve safety in high-risk environments?

In 2013 an estimated 4,400 workers were killed on the job.1 Fortunately, several techniques exist from the field of behavior analysis that have proven effective in increasing safety.

A token economy is a technique from applied behavior analysis that involves earning tokens for engaging in desired behaviors that can later be exchanged for desired prizes. Consultants and the University of Kansas adopted this simple technique to increase safety at two open pit mines in the 1970’s.2

Employees earned tokens (in this case, trading stamps) for working without damaging equipment or being involved in an accident. Bonus stamps could be earned if all members of their group were safe for a given month. However, stamps could be lost for accidents, damaging equipment, or failing to report accidents. Employees traded stamps for thousands of valuable items from an on-site store.

Results demonstrated a dramatic decrease in work-related injuries. Tokens were continued for over ten years. Companies use these same, yet expanded techniques today.3 The savings from decreased accidents and injuries far outweigh the cost of the program.

Does your company have safety risks? Adopt behavior analysis techniques that can help.


3DePasquale, J. P. & Geller, E. S. (1999). Critical success factors for behavior-based safety: A study of 20 industry-wide applications.  Journal of Safety Research, Vol. 30,  pp. 237-249.

2Fox, D. K., Hopkins, B. L., & Anger, W. K. (1987). The long-term effects of a token economy on safety performance in open-pit mining. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 20, 215-224.

1Occupational Safety & Health Administration (2014). Worker injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. Retrieved from https://www.osha.gov/oshstats/commonstats.html

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