The working environment in small firms: Responses from owner-managers


Peter Hasle, Hans Jørgen Limborg, Tina Kallehave, Caroline Klitgaard, and Tilde Rye Andersen  International Small Business Journal,  September 2012;  vol. 30, 6: pp. 622-639., first published on January 5, 2012


Limited research has been conducted on owner-managers’ responses to the working environment (occupational health and safety). This should be understood in the light of the way owner-managers develop identity from their business, and a better understanding is needed to develop preventive programmes that fit the owner-managers’ interpretation of the working environment. Qualitative interviews were carried out with the owner-managers or the managers responsible for the working environment in 23 small firms from the construction and metal industries. The interviews were analysed for attitudes on the working environment, understanding of risk, responsibility for the working environment, and attitudes towards regulation. The analysis revealed both a great heterogeneity of views on the working environment and groups of owners who share important characteristics. Most owner-managers take a positive approach to the working environment, but also try to ‘talk risk down’, criticize regulation as bureaucracy and push a part of the employer responsibility on to the employees. They try to follow what they experience as a generally acceptable standard for the working environment among the stakeholders in the sector, but some owner-managers also tend to neglect the working environment. The reason for the down grading of risk and the push to share responsibility can be found in the close social relationships and the identity work processes of the owner-managers with their business. They try to act as decent people and thus avoid personal guilt and blame if employees should get injured


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