I was sitting in a small restaurant when I heard screams coming from the car park below. Black clouds of smoke started rising past the window. Not knowing what had happened on the street below, I picked grabbed my belongings, got up and walked out of the restaurant towards the top side car park.
When I found out what it happened, I went back to the restaurant, paid my bill and afterwards drove around to see the site of the accident. When I got there the two business people who work in the small sit-down and take-away restaurant were seated in chairs with severe burn marks on their legs. A gas fire had spread rapidly in the shop and they were closest to the source of the gas and suffered damage to their bodies. Fortunately, the shop owner above this restaurant knew first aid and was attending to these business people with burn gel while contacting the paramedics and ambulance service. This small sit-down and take-away restaurant business was trading only for over a year. Who knows when it will open again?
Accidents and losses like this can be devastating to any small business, threatening the quality of life and livelihoods. The SHEQ guide to managing risk shows how the obvious costs are only the “tip of the iceberg”. These are often those related to injuries and illnesses such as medical costs, insurance, worker compensation and the costs to cover lost time of the injured or ill. However guides to risk management indicate that research shows that once all costs have been identified including those “hidden below the surface” the numbers may be 6 to 53 times the injury and illness costs.
How can small businesses afford such losses?
It’s amazing that small business plans prepared or assisted by so-called business advisers don’t usually include health and safety risk assessments and OHS management systems – even if these systems are not formal such as the OSHAS 18001. Market risk, financial risks, operational risks, distribution risks and even security risks are considered in a small business plan but why not health and safety risks? These can have huge consequences for any small business.
What can you do in your business? It’s important to identify hazards in the form of people, equipment, materials, substances, physical conditions, chemicals, plant, machinery, tools, and activities. When the hazards have been identified the level of risk and the threat that it poses to the small business needs to be analysed and determined. As the OHS good practices indicate, it is important to either terminate a hazard or treat the risk through elimination, substitution or engineering. This may include reducing the amount of hazards, modifying the basic qualities of their hazard, changing work methods and processes and even separating the hazard from people or objects that could be harmed.
We know we have a low health and safety culture and practice in most small businesses. But it’s time that we change this. Incidents whether it be injuries or illnesses, damage to property and equipment or the environment can threaten the survival of a small business. Making health and safety part of the small business’ overall vision, culture, objectives, practices and processes even in an informal way without incurring high implementation costs is necessary. All risks need to be properly identified, evaluated and controlled.
Do you want to do something about health and safety in your small business?
Go here now to find out the first step you should take.