Safety and health in micro and small enterprises in the EU: from policy to practice: European Risk Observatory Report

This executive summary presents the findings from a research project investigating the policies, strategies, methods and tools used by intermediaries, authorities and occupational safety and health (OSH) institutions to reach out to and support micro and small enterprises (MSEs) in managing OSH, constituting part of the wider Safe Small and Micro Enterprises (SESAME) project.

As found in the previous phases of the SESAME project, the institutional, socio-economic and regulatory context is found to have a strong impact on OSH in MSEs. Many MSEs face severe contextual challenges, such as competitive pressure, price competition and increasing fragmentation of production, although there is a huge variation among MSEs with regard to these factors. In addition, many MSEs often find themselves under pressure stemming from their weak position in the supply chain. These pressures translate into a vulnerable business model for many MSEs, with limited decision latitude and few economic and managerial resources that could be devoted to issues other than the survival of the business. Often these business vulnerabilities also put the workers in vulnerable positions, with non-standard employment, low levels of workplace training and precarious working conditions.

The contextual factors, combined with few resources being devoted to topics such as OSH in MSEs, results in a large proportion of MSEs having a reactive approach to OSH, where they only rarely engage in proactive OSH initiatives and mainly react to incidents such as inspections, accidents or near accidents, or demands from employees or customers. Those external calls for action may lead to preventive actions to improve selected OSH factors, although they tend to focus mainly on safety and rarely on health issues. MSEs are often businesses struggling to survive, with little interest in OSH and often not reached by the more general OSH policies or by intermediaries. Even the more avid MSEs seem, in general, to be hard to reach, especially with general OSH information.

The study consisted of two separate research tasks. Task 1 identified good examples of OSH measures aimed at MSEs. Based on the available literature, interviews with stakeholders and information about dissemination, and through the usage of the good examples and information obtained from MSEs, 44 examples were selected, described in detail and analysed in order to identify key success factors. Task 2 consisted of dialogue workshops (in six of the participating countries) and focus groups and/or interviews (in three countries). In the dialogue workshops and interviews, national intermediaries with relevance to the OSH setting in MSEs discussed approaches to OSH and identified barriers to and enablers for developing OSH in MSEs, sharing views and experiences based on their daily interaction with MSEs. The workshops engaged four different types of intermediaries including employer representatives, worker representatives, regulators and OSH advisors. The findings in this report are based on the descriptions of good examples and on the data collected in the workshops and interviews. The report also draws on the relevant research literature.

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