Bikram Pandey graduates with PhD in OSH in Small Businesses

Dr Bikram Pandey is the latest PhD graduand from the Centre for Ergonomics, Occupational Safety and Health at the Massey Palmerston North ceremony on 12 May 2014. His supervisors were Associate Professor Ian Laird, Dr Kirsten Olsen and Professor Stephen Legg

Bikram’s PhD was entitled: Understanding of Occupational Health and Safety Risks and Participatory Practices in Small Businesses:  Qualitative Case Studies of Three Small Cafe and Restaurant Businesses.


Small businesses (SBs) have characteristic contexts of owner managed operation, limited resource availability and limited market share that make them unique and different from large businesses. SBs are generally characterised to have highly hazardous working environments and significant exposure to occupational health and safety risks.  The understanding of OHS hazards and risks in the local work environment context is called the local theory (of work environment) and is deemed conducive for participatory practice (participation by both owner/employer and employees) in identification and control of OHS hazards and risks. Studies of this are very limited. This study, therefore, used the theoretical framework of Local Theory of Work Environment to explore the employers’ and employees’ understanding of OHS risks and their participation in identification and control of hazards and risks.

A qualitative case study based on three small businesses, employing between 6-19 employee counts, was undertaken. This involved ethnographic field observations and semi-structured interviews with the employer and employees in three independently owned restaurants and cafés from the Manawatu region of the Central North Island, New Zealand.

The study showed that the employer and employees understanding of OHS risks was experiential such that primarily the directly experienced obvious, physical and immediate effect hazards, events and consequences were understood as OHS risk. The Element of Legitimisation – the ability to bring up and the accepted reasons allowing to bring up hazards and risks for discussion and broader attention in the local work environment, was pivotal to development of similar or different understanding of OHS risks in the local work environment.

Open participation, lead-through participation and closed participation were the three different typologies of participation that were observed pre-dominantly in each of the three business cases respectively. An important finding of the study was that the different typologies of participation influenced legitimisation of OHS hazards and risks differently which was observed to determine the way hazards and risks were dealt with.

The findings suggested that the management of hazards in SBs is informal and reactive in nature and that by expanding and extending the sphere of legitimisation, through a more structured approach to hazard identification and recognition, could establish a more predictive (proactive) hazard management strategy. This, in turn, could lead to a more open participatory work environment, where more appropriate, and potentially more effective approaches to control of hazards and risk, would be employed.

Bikram came to Massey from Nepal, where he had been a project engineer on an international water control project, and via the Danish Technical University, where he had completed a Masters degree in environmental engineering. He is currently seeking an academic or management position in OSH in New Zealand or Australia. 

Dr Bikram Pandey (holding the blue balloon) and supervisors (Dr Kirsten Olsen (under the other blue balloon), Professor Stephen Legg (left) and Associate Professor Ian Laird (right).

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