With the recent publication of a new guide to occupational health and safety for small businesses, this blog post discusses why OH&S matters to SMEs.
When you think about it, it’s obvious that poor occupational health and safety (OH&S) will have a disproportionately large impact on smaller organizations. It’s simply that smaller organizations have less depth of resource. This makes them more vulnerable when things go wrong.
For example a workplace accident causes downtime and disruption in organizations of any size; but in a small business it can mean that production is completely halted, along with income, and possibly for a protracted period. It can also mean the loss of equipment, which can cause an even longer delay. Of course the impact of all this loss of productivity and expense is disproportionately large for a small business, and you should also factor in the cost of fines if you’re found to be in breach of OH&S regulations.
And think about personnel. Smaller businesses tend to have a lot fewer options if a key person, or people are ill, injured or even killed at work. Especially when a small business is relying too heavily on just one person to perform key tasks like payroll; or the maintenance of a crucial piece of plant; or the working of an elaborate spreadsheet that only one person really understands.
To be sure, these are business continuity management issues. But at the same time, the impact on a small business can be seismic if that one person you really need falls ill and is absent for a protracted period.
There’s also a disproportionately big impact on a small business when an individual leaves the business due to ill health, injury or death. On the one hand, there are the costs of early retirement, sick pay or redundancy. On the other hand, there are the costs of recruiting a replacement – which can be far higher than you think by the time you’ve advertised, or paid an agency, and put aside management time for interviews and then spend more time getting that individual up to speed in their new role.
Ill health and low morale
Also, poor occupational health and safety isn’t just about accidents. It can be about conditions that bring about ill health and low morale. These are manifested in high rates of sick leave, a high staff churn and low productivity.
Often too, poor OH&S – accompanied by a conspicuously bad attitude: “Elf and safety – bleeding waste of time!” – can have a very negative impact on the reputation of an organization. When that’s a small business, such a reputation can often become known in the local community. This can affect how customers and suppliers view you – to your detriment. It’s also quite likely to have an impact on the quality of staff that you can recruit and retain.
Excellent occupational health and safety
Conversely what happens when a small business has excellent OH&S? One result is that a lot of costs are lowered. That includes lower insurance premiums and fewer costs when it comes to replacing people and equipment.
Meanwhile, excellent OH&S leads to less downtime, so more work gets done, leading to higher revenue. Plus less ill health and better wellbeing leads to higher morale and productivity.
There’s also a big impact on your reputation, and remember that has a lot of positive impacts, not least on your ability to recruit a better calibre of staff and retain them for longer. Strong OH&S provision can also attract better customers – these days a lot of big organizations are very interested in social responsibility along their supply chain – and OH&S is a facet of that. They’re also interested in continuity of supply. Anything you can do to demonstrate to potential customers that you have excellent OH&S will work in your favour.
ISO 45001 for small businesses
An unimpeachable way to demonstrate excellent OH&S provision of to get certified to the internationally recognized OH&S standard, BS ISO 45001:2018. But this can be seen as a daunting prospect for smaller businesses – as big international management systems standards are perceived by some as being unnecessarily bureaucratic and complicated.
In fact the new wave of these standards puts a lot of emphasis on proportionality, which is to say that the work that goes into the management system should always be in proportion to the size of the host organization. A business should always get more out of the standard than it puts in.
Notwithstanding, we’ve now produced a guide which gives smaller organizations even more help with adopting an OH&S management system. One that isn’t a costly or burdensome paper exercise; but that is tailored to driving OH&S performance improvement in the organization; and that does conform to the requirements of ISO 45001. ISO 45001 Occupational health & safety management systems - A practical guide for small organizations provides practical guidance in simple language. It explains the intention of each clause in the ISO 45001 standard, and why it’s important, and then goes on to give examples of how requirements can be met.
The end game is to ensure that smaller organizations can build healthier and safer workplaces, and enjoy the benefits of that, instead of the disproportionate penalties of poor health and safety.