Small Businesses and Occupational Safety and Health

Since 2007, CErgOSH’s research agenda has been dominated by projects investigating how small businesses, defined as those which employ fewer than 20 staff, manage occupational safety and health. We have focused on:

1. Managing Hazardous Substances in Small Businesses

Hazardous substance exposures, particularly in small to medium sized enterprises (SME’s), contribute substantially to the burden of occupational disease. Many workers are employed in small businesses and have high levels of chemical exposures, but fewer resources to manage and control occupational health hazards. Workers in small businesses, therefore, have a high risk of occupational disease and injury. To date, most OSH research and interventions were based on ‘lessons learned’ from large companies. Specific problems, limitations and needs of small businesses have not been thoroughly examined.

Ian Laird led the Centre’s first major project on OSH management in New Zealand’s small businesses with financial support from ACC ($250,000). The project sought to identify how the owner/managers of small businesses perceive, understand and manage OSH, particularly in relation to hazardous chemicals. Surveys of small businesses were undertaken in industry sectors where exposure to hazardous substances is known to be common, including: apple growing, hairdressing, printing and wood furniture manufacturing.

Publications from this project:

Olsen, K., Harris, L.-A., Laird, I.S., Legg, S., Perry, M., & Hasle, P. (2010). Differential intervention strategies to improve the management of hazardous chemicals in small enterprises. Policy and Practice in Health and Safety, 8 (2), 57-76.

Laird, I., Olsen, K., Harris, L.-A., Legg, S., & Perry, M. (2011). Utilising the characteristics of small enterprises to assist in managing hazardous substances in the workplace. International Journal of Workplace Health Management, 4 (2), 140–163.

2. Evaluation of New Zealand’s National Programmes for Improving OSH in Small Businesses

In 2008, the National Occupational Health and Safety Advisory Committee (NOHSAC) funded a project ($80,000) to identify strategic issues and actions that could be taken to improve national OSH programmes and practice in New Zealand’s small businesses. Lead by Professor Stephen Legg, the research identified the effectiveness of national OSH intervention programmes for small businesses, barriers to the successful implementation of interventions, and the factors facilitating effective and efficient implementation.

Publications from this project:

Legg, S., Battisti, M., Harris, L.-A., Laird, I., Lamm, F., Massey, C., & Olsen, K. (2009). Occupational Health and Safety in Small Businesses (NOHSAC Technical Report 12). Wellington: NOHSAC.

Legg, S., Olsen, K., Lamm, F., Laird, I., Harris, L.-A. & Hasle, P. (2010). Understanding the programme theories underlying national strategies to improve the working environment in small businesses. Policy and Practice in Health and Safety, 8 (2), 5-35.

3. Evaluation of ACC’s Workplace Safety Discount Scheme

Kirsten Olsen is currently leading an evaluation of the ACC’s Workplace Safety Discount Scheme in the agricultural industry. Realist analysis is being used to determine the factors that facilitate and hinder the implementation of this scheme. Dr Kristina Gunnarsson, from the Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at Uppsala University Hospital, worked on this project as part of her post-doctoral study (January - April 2011).

Publications from this project:

Olsen, K., Legg, S., & Hasle, P. (2012). How to use programme theory to evaluate the effectiveness of schemes designed to improve the work environment in small businesses. Work-A Journal of Prevention Assessment & Rehabilitation.

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