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Can J Public Health. 2010 Mar-Apr;101 Suppl 1:S29-33.

Health and safety in small workplaces: refocusing upstream.

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Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, 155 College St., Rm 556, Toronto, ON M5T 3M7.


Small workplaces have particular injury risks and are enduringly difficult for the occupational health and safety (OHS) system to reach. This paper puts forward an "upstream" perspective on OHS in small workplaces that moves beyond the attributes of the workplace and those who work there. The paper draws on and synthesizes ideas and findings from emerging upstream OHS research, our own empirical investigations in Ontario and Quebec, and our collected research experience in small workplace health. Upstream structures and processes (regulations, policies, services, interventions, professional practices) are often misaligned with the conditions of work and social relations of small workplaces. Key upstream factors include regulatory exemption, subcontracting, unionization levels, the changing character of small enterprise, joint management, service and inspection constraints, competing institutional accountabilities, institutional orientation to large business, and inappropriate service and policy. Misalignment of the OHS system with the nature and practical realities of small workplaces can undermine prevention and the management of ill health and injury. To address such misalignments, the paper calls for: 1) restructuring of data collection and consultation processes to increase the visibility, voice and credibility of small workplaces; 2) "audits" of OHS-related legislation, policy and interventions to assess and address implications for small workplaces; 3) reflection on current terms and concepts that render workers invisible and capture poorly the essence and (increasing) diversity of these workplaces; and 4) extension of the upstream gaze to the global level.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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