Running a small business and camping in the Great Smoky Mountains share a surprising parallel. Although the connection may not be obvious at first, consider the following:
The US National Park Service estimates that 1500 black bears live in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That’s 2 bears per square mile. Additionally, the Smokies welcome 9 million annual human visitors. Bears are dangerous to people (and vice versa), so the Park Service—acknowledging that bears can’t read and have only limited Internet access—has provided safety information for us humans:1
- Bears are active in the mornings and evenings and mating season is in July.
- Black bears use hollow trees as dens.
- Most attacks come from bears who want to swipe a pic-a-nic basket.
- When you see a bear, keep your distance.
- When the bear sees you, don’t run away; it’s faster than you are. (We expect that Usain Bolt is not reading this.)
That’s fine for bears and campers, but what about small business owners?
Several studies show workplace injury and illness rates are highest among the organizations that are the smallest.2 One study found that businesses that survived for at least five years had less than half the employee-injury rates as businesses that survived fewer than two years.3
Every business is different and every industry has its own dangers. Most small businesses don’t have an in-house industrial hygienist. However, this doesn’t excuse anyone from providing a safe, healthy workplace. With solid information and some common sense courtesy of the Park Service (and NIOSH), you can ensure that your business doesn’t become a dismal statistic.
The meaningful and insightful parallel you’ve been waiting for
- What’s the mating season? Research your industry and find what times of the day and seasons of the year when injuries are most likely to occur.
- Where’s the den? Identify where risks are located. Is it around machinery? Chemicals?
- What’s in your pic-a-nic basket? Nail down the most prevalent hazards in your field. If park visitors bear-proof their food, their likelihood of an attack drops precipitously. Every industry has its own top hazard.
- What’s a good distance? You know the high-risk seasons, the den locations, and the most prevalent injury types. Can you redesign your process to minimize the risk of any of these factors?
- Are you running from a bear? When resources are stretched or OSH isn’t a core competency, it’s easy to say, “We haven’t had any injuries, so we’re fine.” The folks in the Smokies never include as a tip: “If you’ve never been attacked before, you’ll be fine.”
Getting solid safety and health information
What can you do to make your business safer? What are you required to do? The web is teeming with good information. To save you the trouble, we combed through and reviewed hundreds of resources. We compiled those that met our criteria for being useful, relevant, and easy to understand into a single website. Our Small Business Safety and Health Resource Guide
provides descriptions of and links to helpful sites produced by government, academia, and the private sector.
We want the resource guide to remain current and relevant. We will be looking closely at what links do not get used, and we will remove those. Also, we will take suggestions for new resources to evaluate. Leave a URL and a short description of any suggested resources in the comments if you know of something good we’ve missed. (Keep the comments and URLs on-topic: small business safety and health. We’re not going to promote your dating site or your tours of the Grand Canyon.)
Blogging your success
Injury and fatality numbers draw attention to the negative side of occupational safety and health. If you work for a small business, we want to hear what great things you’ve done to promote a safe and healthy workplace. We’d like to post a follow-up blog highlighting the successes of several small businesses that take pride in sending their workers home well and in one piece every single day. Email us
(email@example.com) a paragraph to share your success story, describe your safety culture, or give tips to other small business owners. Include your business name, URL, and industry with your story. We look forward to hearing great things.
Thomas Cunningham, PhD, and Garrett Burnett, MS, MBA
Dr. Cunningham is a behavioral scientist in the NIOSH Education and Information Department and the assistant coordinator for the NIOSH Small Business Assistance and Outreach Program.
Mr. Burnett is a health communications fellow in the NIOSH Communications and Research Translation Office.
- US Department of the Interior. Great Smoky Mountains: Black Bears. Retrieved August 22, 2012, from National Park Service: http://www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/black-bears.htm
- Jeong, B.Y. Occupational Deaths and Injuries in the Construction Industry. Applied Ergonomics: 335-360 (1998).
Mendeloff, J.M., C. Nelson, K. Ko, and A. Haviland. “Small businesses and workplace fatality risks”. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2006.Morse, T., C. Dillon, J. Weber, N. Warren, H. Bruneau, and R. Fu. Prevalence and Reporting of Occupational Illness by Company Size: Population Trends and Regulartoy Implications. American Journal of Industrial Medicine: 361-370 (2004).Page, K. Blood on the Coal: The Effect of Organizational Size and Differentation on Coal Mine Accidents. Journal of Safety and Research: 85-95 (2009).Buckley, J.P., Sestito, J. P., and Hunting, K. L. Fatalities in the Landscape and Horticultural Services Industry, 1992-2001. American Journal of Industrial Medicine: 701-713 (2008).
Fabiano, B., F. Curro, and R. Pastorino. A Study of the Relationship Between Occupational Injuries and Firm Size and Type in the Italian Industry. Safety Science: 587-600 (2004).
- Holizki, T., L. Nelson, and R. McDonald, Injury Rate as an Indicator of Business Success. Industrial Health, 2006: p. 166-168.