The psychological and social processes influencing health and safety in small to medium-sized enterprises
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Dieghan, C. (2009) The psychological and social processes influencing health and safety in small to medium-sized enterprises, no. 206.
AIM: Small and medium sized enterprises have notable difficulties in engaging with health and safety activity and experience proportionally higher levels of accidents than larger businesses. SMEs have also been described as problematic to access for research and intervention purposes. The aim of this research was to investigate the role of psychosocial factors in health and safety behaviour among small or medium sized enterprises (SMEs). METHODOLOGY: The research employed a mixed method design over two phases of study. In the first phase, fifty semi-structured telephone interviews were used to derive behaviours that the SMEs considered relevant to their type of business. In addition, the SMEs provided views on the rationale for, perceived effectiveness and facilitators of health and safety behaviour they had undertaken. In the second phase, a questionnaire survey was conducted using key SME health and safety behaviours and health and safety-related attitudes derived from the telephone interviews and key theoretical construct domains. Three hundred and thirteen SMEs completed questionnaires distributed at trade shows in Scotland and England. RESULTS: Overall, the level of health & safety activity undertaken by SMEs was reported to be low (with 59% spending one hour or less in a typical week according to questionnaire responses, the figure was 60% for the telephone interviews). Smaller businesses notably the micro business, spent significantly less time on health and safety activity compared with larger organisations. Those spending approximately one day per week or more on health and safety activity were found to be the largest SMEs in the sample. Hierarchical regressions performed on the survey data highlighted five key predictors of health and safety activity. These were positive and negative beliefs regarding resources, relationships with suppliers, and decision making by middle and junior level staff. It is notable that after taking into account the influence of the size of the company, these factors remained of significant importance. This suggests that the influence of these factors persist despite previous findings related to the size of the SME. Results also suggest that beliefs associated with the consequences of health & safety behaviour tend to lead to increased activity. Further, organisational design was found to mediate this effect. CONCLUSION: Interventions designed to increase health and safety in SMEs would be advised to take into account the psychosocial influences on health and safety behaviour, in particular those highlighted in this study, as these may have implications for uptake and sustainability of any new initiatives requiring such activity.