Employers' and employees' understanding of occupational health and safety risk in small businesses:a case study

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Many small businesses have hazardous work environments and exposures to significant occupational health and safety risks. Differences in understanding of risks by employers and employees are one of the factors leading to the hazardous work environment and risk exposures in small businesses. Employees generally describe “the tools of the trade” as the sources of risks of accidents and injuries, whereas employers generally identify “bad employees” or “bad luck” as the cause of accidents. It seems that employer and employees having the same or a shared understanding of occupational health and safety problems, their causal relations and the course of action is essential to remedy the work environment problems in the workplace. This paper describes a study that explores owner/managers’ and employees’ understandings of occupational health and safety risks in small business workplaces within the framework of the Local Theory of Work Environment. A case study of an independently operated restaurant and café in New Zealand employing 6-­19 employees was undertaken.. Data was collected using participant­-as-­observer ethnographic observation of the workplace followed by semi structured interviews of the owner, a manager and more than fifty per cent of employees employed in the business. Preliminary findings based on interview data are reported in this paper. The results suggest that the owner/manager and employees mainly consider physical safety problems experienced by employees or food safety problems affecting the customers as the key work environment problems. The owner/manager and employees generally link common sense and breach of norms with the causal relation behind these problems. Social exchange and external certification, among others, are found to be prominent reasons for bringing to attention the perceived problems in the wider work environment context. Implicit individual element of action and explicit organizational element of action are recognised as the two courses of action remedying the occupational health and safety problems. Further studies can be directed at finding how a shared understanding of the OHS risks occurs and what influences this process.
2010, pp. 1 - 12