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How to reach micro and small enterprises

Introduction

Reaching out to micro and small enterprises (MSEs) and disseminating the message about the importance of preventing occupational safety and health (OSH) risks is a core activity of interventions aimed at improving OSH in MSEs. Even with high-quality interventions, evaluations indicate that it can be difficult to reach all companies in a sector. Providing OSH support and tools over the internet requires less resources and has the potential to reach a larger audience, although the effects in terms of usage and on OSH conditions has not been systematically evaluated.

It can be expected that companies with low motivation and little OSH knowledge may be the hardest to reach and may also have little interest in participating in the intervention or using the OSH support offered, thus rendering the intervention ineffective in relation to these firms.

The important role of intermediaries

MSEs are generally hard to reach due to their large number and often wide geographical dispersion; however, findings in the literature show that they can more easily be reached through various intermediaries.

Common strategies applied in almost all intervention studies and in all countries involve cooperation with some kind of sectoral organisation. In the EU, trade union representatives and workers’ representatives have, in numerous empirical studies, been shown to play an important and powerful role in interventions in small firms.

Facilitators already working on OSH improvements or related questions in the sector are especially important in relation to MSEs. Other studies indicate that networks of peers can be a very successful way to approach OSH in MSEs. Using experts or facilitators with good knowledge about the sector can increase the credibility of an intervention and make it easier to establish a relationship with the companies in the target group, as can cooperation with sectoral organisations and other organisations with whom the target group has already established good relations.

There are several challenges when involving intermediaries. These include ensuring that intermediaries’ interests are aligned with those of the OSH programme owners and those influential actors, such as financial advisers, who have an organisational or personal interest in promoting the OSH programme. OSH initiators, like public agencies, have to consider intermediaries as much as MSEs themselves when designing OSH regulations involving intermediaries, taking into account the strengths of intermediaries and building on them when designing intervention programmes. Various studies show how, for instance, accountants and financial and industry advisers can serve as intermediaries.

These examples point out to the need to understand the context of the sector in question in order to identify potential intermediaries, who may be actors with established relationships with the MSEs. However, it is also important to consider these actors’ interests and whether or not their goals are compatible with the intervention. For example, suppliers are interesting potential intermediaries, as they often have long-lasting relationships with MSEs, but they also have a business interest in selling their products or services, which might be incompatible with improving OSH conditions

More information available in Contexts and arrangements for occupational health and safety in micro and small enterprises in the EU