Businesses are constantly striving to improve workplace safety performance. But how can they do that when they are frequently operating in a highly regulated environment? We examine research that examines the most effective work health and safety actions implemented by the regulator based on business activity and size.
Larger businesses, businesses that pay attention to regulations, and businesses that have a favorable impression of the regulator are more likely to benefit from the implementation of new regulations. Other significant elements include the business’s level of hazardous activity. The greater the risk, the more attention new restrictions receive.
Small firms may struggle to grasp what they need to do to comply. Businesses are not a homogeneous group, and the process of complying with new legislation is hard. The ‘one size fits all’ approach to regulation is not always appropriate, and both large and small enterprises require varying levels of counsel and support.
Work health and safety inspections seek to alter behavior through advice, enforcement, and fines. Inspections may lessen the severity of injuries rather than the overall rate. An inspection may reveal safety noncompliance and draw a manager’s attention to overall safety. Inspections can help enhance health and safety outcomes, but they serve various purposes in large and small firms.
For small enterprises and those with little or no prior inspection experience, the inspector may be the only point of contact with the regulator. They may be unaware of how restrictions affect their commercial activity.
Penalty-based inspections are more likely to result in behavioral changes in medium and large enterprises. Large corporations are anxious to prevent potential reputational harm as a result of publicized enforcement actions and fines.
When a company is punished for violating workplace health and safety laws, a clear signal is conveyed about the importance of the offense, acting as a deterrent to future offenses. According to the research, prosecutions have a minor deterrent effect and are more popular with large corporations.
Work health and safety agencies have created substantial advice materials and codes of practice. However, there is little evidence that they help to change behavior. The main reason is that small and medium-sized enterprises struggle to apply general information to their specific circumstances.
They require explicit instructions on what they should perform. Second, no specific outcomes are defined for guide items. Instead of presuming that all businesses will comprehend the rules and apply them to their practices, guidance materials interwoven within policies and procedures are more likely to be effective.
Campaigns are powerful tools for improving safety behavior, especially when combined with enforcement and education. Success can be observed in road safety and health initiatives, such as those against smoking.
Campaigns often focus on a specific safety concern and should contain both punishments for noncompliance and information on how to comply. It takes time to embed safety behavioral change ideas, with research estimating 3-5 years for each new program.
So, if workplace health and safety initiatives like rules, prosecutions, guidance material, and enforceable undertakings appear to make little difference in improving safety behavior, what do positive measures, such as encouraging firms with incentives and voluntary cooperation agreements, appear to be preferable to the heavy-stick approach.
Businesses are more concerned with being perceived as good corporate citizens by offering workplaces where people want to work and do business. The link between productivity and well-being appears to be resonating strongly.