WHS investment is generally perceived as unappealing to SME due to the longer time period that ROI in WHS are generated and the competing financial and resource demands with a shorter cycle ROI. Another significant factor is that production pressures contribute to poorer SME WHS outcomes. A study of the food processing sector in the UK found that, despite supermarket chains interest in the safety of their supply chain, the price and delivery demands imposed on suppliers had an inconsistent effect and was quite detrimental to WHS outcomes.
The Australian construction sector has a disproportionate representation of SME (approx. 97%) and is characterised by a highly competitive tendering system and pressure to deliver projects within time and budgetary constraints. This is compounded by high staff turnover rates, a series of one-off projects and changing work environments. SME in construction were also found in various studies to conceptualise WHS risk awareness and control as solely or predominantly related to the individual, while overlooking system controls. This is also compounded by the widely held belief that failures in WHS are attributable to worker carelessness, lack of knowledge or experience.
Several compounding factors affect the SME safety environment:
To address the second part of the question, how to improve WHS performance as a SME. There are several practical and pragmatic initiatives that any SME, at any stage of maturity, can implement:
With the limited resources available to SME, it makes sense to prevent loss (workers through injury, fines, penalties, litigation costs, lost production etc) rather than allow accidents and incidents to disrupt or potentially destroy the viability of the business. By applying some, if not all, of the initiatives above SME should be able to improve their safety outcomes and create a more solid and viable business model, which will enhance the opportunities for growth.