25th June 2009

SMBs 'often lack awareness of health and safety compliance'

While health and safety is often standard practice for larger event firms with many even bringing in outside help

While health and safety is often standard practice for larger event firms with many even bringing in outside help to ensure that they are meeting the necessary regulations, it can be a tricky area for smaller firms with fewer resources.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) says there is no evidence to suggest that firms with fewer employees do not take safe working practices as seriously as larger companies.

However, recent research conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Department for Business, Enteprise and Regulatory Reform suggests that there is a lack of awareness of the various rules and directives that they need to follow.

The survey found that almost half of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) do not seek any guidance to help them comply with the law.

According to the research, these are far more likely to be sole traders that do not have formal health and safety management systems in place or specialists working in-house on this area.

Nevertheless, SMBs are not legally required to have a formal system of management, which could explain their lack of awareness in this area.

In the final part of the series on health and safety, a spokesperson for the HSE highlights the most important areas for smaller businesses to consider and explains how their responsibilities differ from larger firms.

First and foremost, the representative stresses that all companies, regardless of size and industry, have a duty to manage the hazards and risks that are present in the workplace.

Obviously, the volume and nature of these are going to change dependent on the kind of operations that a company is involved in.

At the core of this is the UK regulatory framework for health and safety, which, as highlighted in the first article on this subject, centres around the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

This includes the responsibilities of firms and the self-employed to their workers, as well as the employees' duty to maintain safe working practices for themselves and each other.

"Small businesses are extremely diverse and the measures they need to take to manage their risks will depend on the type of business and work activities arising from it," explains the HSE spokesperson.

"The one exception for small businesses is those with less than five employees do not need to keep a written record of their risk assessment," he adds.

According to the spokesperson, the HSE works with stakeholders such as trade associations, BusinessLink and Chambers of Commerce to ensure "consistent and well-balanced advice for small businesses".

"It also supports through BusinessLink a Health and Safety indicator for SMEs. Both give businesses a basis to benchmark their performance and thereby avoid being either over or under risk-averse," the representative explains.

There is a wealth of information available via the HSE's website, via a confidential helpline and through publications such as Five Steps to Risk Assessment, all of which are designed to give businesses comprehensive information on how to ensure they are complying with what can be very complex regulations.