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RR366 - Making an impact on SME compliance behaviour: An evaluation of the effect of intervention upon compliance with Health and Safety legislation in small and medium sized enterprises

This research explores how external interventions affect SME compliance behaviour. It examined the impact of intervention on standards of compliance, the processes by which compliance occurred and how external intervention impacted on these processes. The study was conducted in small hairdressing shops in 6 local authorities in England. The local authorities were selected on the basis of the types and levels of intervention conducted. Formal compliance with COSHH, electrical safety and risk assessment requirements was assessed in hairdressers in each of the local authorities, local authority case notes examined and interviews conducted with the manager/owners.

The research addresses the major issue in compliance – how can SMEs be encouraged/coerced into changing their behaviour to ensure that they achieve compliance.

Four findings emerge. The first is fundamental – SMEs conceive compliance in a different way to the view of enforcers. The small hairdressers in this study all believed they complied even though formal compliance levels ranged from 19.5% to 61%. The second finding is related to this and is that compliance was not found to be part of a rational decision-making process. The process of compliance was more one of the SME recognising the gap between what they were doing and how they ‘ought’ to operate and taking action to close that gap. In this study that ‘gap’ was best closed by personal face-toface interaction. In local authorities that is most likely to be through inspection. A final major finding was that this face-to-face interaction did not have to come from the enforcer. Local college placement officers were effective at changing some compliance behaviours.

This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.

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Updated 2010-03-19