The importance of occupational health advice for SMEs

A very informative article appeared in ‘Occupational Health’ magazine (which can be found online at http://tinyurl.com/69laww3) and makes the case very clearly for the take-up of occupational health services by SMEs. The article discusses a number of the particular issues faced by SMEs when compared with larger organisations with regards to occupational health, including:

  • the substantial impact of long-term absence on SMEs (e.g. statutory sick pay and overtime costs, manpower issues, the potential backlog of work) all of which are hard to deal with in smaller organisations;
  • managers who are not always trained in absence management;
  • business owners who are themselves quite likely to work through illness and possibly not seek medical advice for fear that it may impact negatively on their ability to work and fulfil their overall business strategy;
  • the high proportion of reported cases of occupational health injuries that occur in SMEs (82% according to the HSE, 2006*) perhaps due to the ‘dangerous’ activities carried out by many SMEs (e.g. manufacturing, construction, agriculture) and the perception that risk management is too costly;
  • poor understanding of the concept of occupational health and how it can contribute to business success;
  • a resistance to calling on external services due to the fear of potentially high costs involved.

The Health for Work Adviceline (www.health4work.nhs.uk) is mentioned in the article as one of the approaches that has been devised in order to deliver occupational health advice within the SME market. It is widely recognised that the health of individuals is linked to their ability to effectively participate and contribute in their work, and the impact of ill health on small businesses is significant, yet very few provide help and support to staff who suffer from ill health. It is easy for busy small business managers to overlook the importance of staff health as they strive to deliver business improvement and growth. The Health for Work Adviceline service recognises this and so provides free, quick and easy access to effective professional advice and guidance in this key area – 0800 0 77 88 44.

*HSE. (2006). “Six SME case studies that demonstrate the business benefit of effective management of OH health and safety”.

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