Improving health and safety in small businesses

In brief

  • Occupational health and safety (OHS) interventions in small businesses can improve safety-related attitudes, behaviour and health.
  • Small businesses benefit most from multi-component OHS interventions. Evidence supports two intervention types: a combination of training and safety audits; and a combination of engineering controls, training, safety audits and motivational components (such as a reward).
  • Small businesses differ from larger firms in their work relationships, understanding of workplace risk, and legal requirements related to health and safety. Business size should be a factor in the design of OHS interventions.

Published: January 2010

Why was this review done?

Small businesses represent the majority of firms in the developed economies. Smaller firms face unique challenges to occupational health and safety. For example, small businesses are more likely to employ “vulnerable workers,” such as young people, who are more susceptible to work-related injury and illness. This review asks which OHS interventions are best at reducing health problems in small businesses.

How was the review done?

The reviewers looked at peer-reviewed studies of businesses with 100 or fewer employees that had tried one or a combination of the following OHS interventions:

  1. Training;
  2. Safety audits;
  3. Engineering controls;
  4. Motivational component (i.e. a financial incentive as motivation).

Reviewers considered the effect of these interventions on the following:

  1. Attitudes and beliefs;
  2. Behaviours;
  3. Health;
  4. Workplace exposures (or exposure to risk).

What did the researchers find?

The review team found five studies that met the quality and relevance criteria. Together, these studies showed a moderate level of evidence that OHS interventions improved safety-related attitudes, behaviours, health and workplace exposures. Two intervention types that had a positive impact on attitudes and beliefs:

  1. A combination of training and safety audits;
  2. A combination of engineering controls, training, safety audits, and motivational components.

What are some strengths and weaknesses of the study?

This systematic review was thorough. Reviewers searched many electronic databases and reference lists of relevant studies for high quality studies. The review was restricted to studies reported in peer-reviewed publications.