Small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are economically weak with poor management conditions and are less prepared with minimal assets and ability for working environment improvements
. Additionally, small business owners are less able to manage burdens, and have poor working conditions, which makes it difficult for them to receive efficient industrial health services that is also low in quality
Due to these characteristics, small businesses have higher industrial accident rates and poorer working conditions compared to conglomerates. The total industrial accident cases have somewhat decreased overall domestically, but the fact that the ratio for small businesses has increased to 80% supports the finding regarding accidents and working conditions
As a result of surveying the importance of safety and health issues in small businesses with fewer than 50 employees, the number of businesses that perceive safety and health issues to be very important accounted for 54.1%, constituting the majority. This is seemingly different from the finding of a previous study in which 29.6% chose “very interested” for the question regarding the level of interest by business owners for workplace health management
. However, this difference with the results of this study was not big when the response “somewhat interested” was included in the results of the previous study, although the intent was somewhat different in the previous studies as it asked for interest levels. As a result, in contrast to the existing perception that there is a low interest in health and safety of small businesses, a high interest was found with a high level of awareness for the importance of these issues. This can be interpreted as reflecting a trend regarding expanding demands on safety and health in domestic businesses
However, result of the multiple logistic regression analysis related to the investment in preventing industrial accidents showed that the influential factors were safety and health issue awareness in facility investment experiences, industrial accident history, and receiving technical and financial support. Businesses that answered safety and health issues as “very important” showed that facility investment experience was 1.6 times that of the businesses that did not respond similarly. Such differences can be interpreted as practical facility investment achieved by going beyond simply perceiving safety and health issues as important and prioritizing safety and health issues from a business management perspective. For this, the awareness of safety and health issue importance should be allowed to lead into actual safety and health behaviors, while business owners as well as employees actively demand and participate in safety and health.
Therefore, receiving technical and financial support or past industrial accidents were important factors for increasing safety and health issue awareness. This is evident from the survey regarding the factors that determined facility investment for industrial accident prevention. This showed that the businesses that considered safety and health issues to be very important showed a higher ratio compared to those that did not.
It is difficult for small businesses to independently invest in industrial accident prevention and they rely on related technical and financial support. In the survey regarding receiving technical and financial support, businesses that did showed a 20% higher response for “very important” compared to those that did not receive support. Upon examining previous studies, there were various assessments regarding health technology support projects for small businesses, which showed conflicting assessments that the projects were essential for small businesses along with the assessment that they did not sufficiently reflect the opinions of the businesses and service providers
. However, according to a study’s result, despite many negative assessments, the majority of business owners responded that it was desirable to continue the projects, positively assessing the technical and financial support projects
. Taking these findings together, it can be interpreted that technical and financial support for a business is closely related to the business’ awareness of safety and health issue importance.
In the survey that asked whether they have received technical and financial support from the Ministry of Employment and Labor, and the Safety and Health Agency, 20.5% gave an affirmative answer, reflecting that only a minority of businesses were benefiting from this support. Though most small businesses are aware of the importance safety and health issues, it can be said that the support for realistically implementing this is still inadequate. Furthermore, in the case of businesses with fewer than five employees, the percentage of businesses benefiting from this support was 14.9%, which was far below the percentage for those with 30–49 employees (30.6%). Businesses with fewer than five employees are vulnerable in terms of safety and health management, with particularly low awareness for dangers, while it is impossible to realistically divide work related to safety due to the small number of employees
. Therefore, it is necessary to expand government support in addition to providing more benefits for small businesses with fewer than five employees when selecting businesses in the future.
According to the current Industrial Safety and Health Act, small businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not obligated to perform health management or appoint a health manager
. Furthermore, projects that aim to supplement issues and provide technical and financial support for small businesses are currently being carried out. These projects include the following: “Safety and Health Keeper Project”,
 which performs essential safety and health management work for small businesses; the “Clean Business Development Project”,
 which supports improvement regarding hazardous materials or risk factors; and the health management support fiscal agent business for small businesses. There are other various forms of support projects as well.
However, thus far, these show many limitations as fundamental measures for industrial accident prevention. In the case of the “Clean Business Development Project”, the workplace injury rate in the 2009 survey for businesses designated as clean businesses and those not designated as clean businesses were 1.69% and 1.43%, respectively. There was only a 0.26% difference. In addition, according to the 2010 data, the percentage of businesses previously certified as clean businesses that applied for re-certification was only 8.2%, with only approximately half (50.3%) being re-certified
. This shows that while technical and financial support projects are being undertaken, there are many problems regarding maintenance and follow-up.
Regarding the “Clean Business Development Project”, the businesses requiring re-certification must pay for the cost of facility improvements themselves with no incentives provided for receiving re-certification. Therefore, for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees that are financially weak, the ratio of re-certification applications is low despite high awareness of safety and health issue. Accordingly, as a measure for this, small business policies need to be more accessible, while thorough follow up management, such as inducing facility improvement through a continuous government technical and financial support, is necessary for the businesses that are doing this. Such facility improvement through investment is believed to be very important in industrial accident prevention.
Therefore, regular business education is necessary to improve awareness of safety and health issue importance while various onsite participation incentives should be provided, so that these efforts can lead to actual investments. Currently, Korea shows great improvement in the introduction and operation of such systems, but there are areas that are neglected due to the lack of awareness regarding their necessity. Therefore, it is necessary to thoroughly modify existing operating systems in order to achieve perfect maintenance and follow up management.
The strengths of this study are that it identifies safety and health issue awareness according to each variable as well as the facility investment experiences by surveying safety and health issue awareness and its status in small businesses. This included the occurrence of industrial accidents within the past three years, the safety and health issue awareness, and technical and financial support. It also surveyed basic business information, such as business size, industry, and handling of hazardous materials through detailed questionnaires. In particular, the study analyzed the safety and health issue awareness and facility investment experiences as well as the industrial accident occurrence in the past three years to estimate the causal relationships between them. It showed which cases resulted in industrial accident preventive activities for small businesses. In addition, representativeness was ensured by using a sample extraction method through a population analysis and the representativeness was sufficient for the sample as the study was conducted with sample businesses selected through an objective and systematic selection method. Furthermore, as it included the small businesses in the six regional industrial complexes nationwide, it satisfied the conditions for representativeness and is more representative compared to existing studies. Thus, the study is significantly provides the fundamental data for industrial accident prevention activities in small businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
However, this study’s limitation was that it did not sufficiently reflect employee views as the study targeted the business owners or the managerial-level employees, even though each business had a representative for each region. Additionally, there is a possibility of information bias as safety and health issue awareness, facility investment experiences, and industrial accident experiences were obtained via surveys rather than through objective data collection. For the businesses with industrial accidents, the possibility of over-exaggerating technical and financial support as well as facility investment experience cannot be eliminated while, for the businesses with low safety and health awareness, it is possible that they answered lower than the reality regarding their investment experience. Therefore, additional research is necessary to determine the effects on facility investment in relation to safety and health.
In addition, as it was a cross-sectional study, another limitation was in its limited ability to explain the causal relationship even though a relationship may exist between safety and health awareness and facility investment experience.
As a result of this study, it was found that awareness regarding safety and health issues was high if small businesses had experienced industrial accidents or received technical and financial support. Additionally, more investment was made for industrial accident prevention if the safety and health issues were perceived to be important or if the business had previously had an experience with industrial accidents or received technical and financial support. Therefore, the ultimate goal of small business safety and health projects is in recognizing their importance and prioritizing safety and health issues in terms of business management. For this, various support projects are currently being undertaken with limited businesses, and inadequate maintenance and follow up management. Therefore, regular business education is necessary for the improvement of safety and health issue awareness and it is necessary to provide various onsite participation incentives, so the efforts lead to actual investment, while thoroughly modifying existing operating systems to achieve optimum maintenance and follow up management.