Healthy Workplaces Milton Keynes

Newsletter articles

1 Sep 2010

Employment Studies Issue 12

Dan Lucy, Research Fellow

Dan LucyImproving access to advice and support on occupational health and safety issues to business, especially those organisations with fewer than 250 employees (ie small and medium-sized enterprises – SMEs), has been identified as a key issue in successive UK government policy documents.[1] Several pilot programmes have been launched over the course of the past five years[2] to test potential ways in which access could be provided. Evaluations of these pilot services have generally shown that SMEs are difficult to engage on the issue of occupational health and safety advice, and where they do seek help, this is most often for basic safety advice and with understanding and interpreting health and safety regulations.[3] Other research has shown that SMEs do not generally regard sickness absence as an issue, and tend to have a ‘safety’-focused view of what constitutes health and welfare provision, although they may have a number of informal practices in place which they do not spontaneously connect with workplace health – for example, the offer of flexible working.

Healthy Workplaces Milton Keynes (HWMK), was a pilot designed to test the delivery of advice and support on occupational health and safety issues to SMEs based in Milton Keynes, using advisers drawn from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Milton Keynes Council. The service was promoted as a joint HSE/local authority service with advisers acting at a distance from the enforcement arm of the regulator. The service ran from February 2008 until March 2009.

The evaluation of the pilot, carried out by IES, confirmed many of the findings from previous studies, and although employers using the service felt that the involvement of the regulator increased its credibility (as for previous pilot services of this kind) those employers most likely to engage with the service often appeared to have a reasonable understanding of health and safety, and relatively good practices in place. Finding ways to access those employers most in need of support, and least likely to be able to effect change continues to be a challenge, as does raising the awareness and interest of SMEs more generally in occupational health and safety.

Footnotes [back]

[1] HM Government (2005) Health, Work and Well-being: Caring for our future. TSO; HM Government (2008) Improving Health and Work: Changing Lives. TSO
[2] eg Workplace Health Connect (WHC); Workboost Wales (WBW), Kirklees Better Health at Work pilot
[3] Workplace Health Connect: Evaluation findings, Tyers C et al., HSE, 2010

For more information on this work, please contact Jim Hillage at IES.