Spotlight on small business health and safety
Micro businesses (fewer than ten employees) and their employees can find managing ill health challenging, statistics from The Work Foundation suggest. The research shows that these employees are twice as likely to leave work and move onto Employment Support Allowance without a period of sickness absence than those in larger businesses.
Despite this, rates of sickness absence are lower in smaller businesses: The Work Foundation finds that 2.3% of working hours are lost to sickness in organisations with between 25 and 500 employees, compared with 1.7% in organisations with fewer than 25 employees. In fact, 61% of employees in small businesses (1-49 employees) reported no absence at all in a year, compared with 56% of large firm employees.
Whatever the size of your organisation, ACAS advises that to manage sickness levels and keep absence from work down, you need to:
- monitor absence levels to find out how much they are costing you. Keep a record for each employee and see if there are any patterns;
- have a clear policy for managing sickness absence and unauthorised absence;
- understand the role GPs play in helping employees return to work; and
- think about the impact on employees' physical and emotional wellbeing of:
- working conditions
- your business's culture – for example, is it open and inclusive or hostile and unsupportive?
- working patterns – for example, are there peaks and troughs of activity, or can shift patterns mean employees lose sleep?
In terms of maintaining the health and safety of employees whilst at work, the HSE advises that the approach you take should be proportionate to the size of your business and the nature of your business activity. If you have fewer than five employees, it says, you don’t have to write down your risk assessment or your health and safety policy.
You do have to consult all your employees on health and safety.
“Consultation is a two-way process, allowing staff to raise concerns and influence decisions on the management of health and safety,” says the HSE. “Your employees are often the best people to understand risks in the workplace and involving them in making decisions shows them that you take their health and safety seriously.
“In a very small business, you might choose to consult your employees directly. Alternatively, you might consult through a health and safety representative, chosen by your employees or selected by a trade union. As an employer, you cannot decide who will be the representative.”