I introduction: occupational health and safety in small and medium sized enterprises

E. Kevin Kelloway and Cary L. Cooper

Although small and medium sized enterprises play a vital role in the economy, issues of occupational health and safety are often ignored in such organizations. Researchers in occupational health and safety, as in other areas of organizational research, typically focus on large businesses where it is relatively easy to obtain large sample sizes. Interventions (e.g. inspections, training) to enhance occupational health and safety often require resources or expertise that are not readily available in smaller businesses and may, in fact, be inappropriate for small business (MacEachen et al., 2008). Moreover, the small business sector is characterized by financial fragility and instability, making it difficult to enforce occupational health and safety standards in this environment. Indeed occupational health and safety regulations may specifically exempt small businesses from particular provisions. For example, in Canada, joint management- labour occupational health and safety committees are required in virtually every occupational health and safety act but only for businesses with at least 20 employees - a provision that exempts most small businesses from the requirement.

As a result of these characteristics, issues of occupational health and safety assume particular importance in a small business. Workplace fatalities are higher in industries characterized by a large number of small businesses (Lentz and Wenzl, 2006; National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1999) and the solutions that are enshrined in contemporary occupational health and safety programming may be ineffective or irrelevant in the small business environment.

Defining the term ‘small business’ is actually more difficult than it first appears. Official agencies might cite definitions such as businesses employing less than 100 employees (or less than 50 employees for service organizations; see e.g. http://www.ic.gc.ca/epic/site/sbrp-rppe.nsf/en/rd01225e. html), however the reality is that the vast majority of small business is, in fact, micro business. In Canada, 75 per cent of all businesses employ fewer than five people and 97 per cent of all businesses employ less than 50 employees (Debus, 2005). In the European Union, 99 per cent of all enterprises are small businesses employing less than 50 people and over 90 per cent are micro-businesses employing less than 10 people (European Commission, 2004). Thirty-two per cent of all employees in Canada (Debus, 2005) and just under 57 per cent of employees in the European Union (European Commission, 2004) are employed in a small business (i.e. less than 20 employees).

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