SMEs Health & Safety challenges

Health & Safety challenges for the smaller organisation

Complying with large company legislation on smaller resources

Having worked for large and small companies managing Health & Safety, I’ve experienced the challenges that smaller organisations face due to their size and relative lack of resources.

According to the House of Commons Library Briefing Paper Number 06152, 7th December 2015, in 2015 there were 5.4 million businesses in the UK. Over 99% of these businesses were small or medium sized (SME) businesses employing 0 to 249 people. These SMEs employed 15,611,000 people overall while large companies employing over 249 people, employed 10,260,000 people in total. This equates to over 60% of people in the United Kingdom being employed by SMEs.

With these figures in mind then it’s clear to see that managing Health & Safety effectively within SMEs could make a big difference to a large number of working people in the UK.

SME legislation and challenges

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These smaller companies still have to comply with the same Health & Safety legislation that large companies do, despite having far less resources in many cases and this is a major challenge. The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) seem to have recognised these challenges and this is reflected in both their ‘Helping Great Britain Work Well‘ Strategy and their 2016/17 Business Plan in which they’re committed to:

  • “Undertake user insight research to baseline the effectiveness of our communications with SMEs.”
  • “Use this research to inform future actions that could promote greater use and appropriate implementation by SMEs to manage risk.”

If the HSE can effectively deliver on its plans, then it will hopefully go some way to bringing about consistent and effective management of Health & Safety across all businesses. Morally and legally all employees have a right to have their wellbeing protected at work and this shouldn’t be determined by the size of the company they work for. This however is the situation in many cases.

The resource imbalance might be counteracted to some extent by trying to make legislation easier to understand and implement whilst still delivering the same level of risk control. An increased supportive HSE stance would also help although the conflict between being a regulator and providing support could be a difficult balance. Perhaps providing subsidised Health & Safety training for directors of SMEs would also encourage more understanding of the benefits of effective health and safety management.

The fact, however that SMEs feature prominently in the HSE’s new Plan is definitely an encouraging first step. I for one definitely hope this brings about real improvements so that all employees, regardless of the size of company they work for, receive appropriate protection.

Philip Slingsby

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