An intervention model developed by two investigators at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health brings crucial information about work-related safety and health to small businesses, the same investigators reported in the journal Safety Science.

Drawn from previous research in Europe and New Zealand, the model depends upon intermediary groups—such as goods and services suppliers, membership organizations, educational organizations, and government agencies—to relay information about health and safety from large organizations, such as NIOSH, to small businesses.

Reaching small businesses is critical, since most businesses in the United States employ fewer than 20 workers, which is the typical definition of a small business. In fact, 79% of all U.S. companies have fewer than 10 employees.

Unfortunately, with fewer employees come fewer resources to devote to health and safety interventions, and several studies show that small businesses have proportionately more work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths than businesses with 20 or more employees.

To test their model’s effectiveness in serving small businesses, the investigators applied it to four case studies:

  1. Trenching safety training for construction
  2. Basic compliance and hazard recognition for general industry
  3. Expanded safety and health training for restaurants
  4. Fall prevention and respirator training for boat repair contractors

Case Study Results

The model succeeded in several areas, the investigators concluded.

Studies show that small businesses have proportionately more work-related injuries, illnesses, and deaths than businesses with 20 or more employees.
It facilitated NIOSH investigators’ participation with the intermediary groups’ planning activities and showed that the needs of the small businesses aligned with the intermediary groups’ offerings.

Additionally, the model enabled strong leadership among the intermediary groups, while encouraging ongoing monitoring by NIOSH investigators.

At the same time, several challenges emerged in the evaluation, including inadequate resources among intermediary groups and insufficient opportunity for in-person meetings between these groups and the NIOSH investigators.

Another challenge was balancing the number of interactions between NIOSH investigators, the intermediary groups, and the small businesses.

Nevertheless, the case studies show that the model’s reliance on intermediary groups is one way for large organizations to reach more small businesses than they could on their own, according to the investigators.

Now, they are applying the model in ongoing studies, including a project exploring how to bring Total Worker Health® practices to small businesses through relevant intermediaries such as local health departments, health service providers to businesses, and safety consultants.