Health and safety management within SMEs in developing countries: a study of contextual influences

Considerable attention has been focused on addressing construction health and safety risks in developed economies. Sadly, the same cannot be said of developing countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where accident figures are extremely high. The aim of this study is to examine the influence of the contextual environment within which Ghanaian construction Small- and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) manage Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S). A questionnaire survey was administered to construction SMEs to better understand the health and safety management practices and associated problems followed up by field interviews to explore key issues identified by the survey. The results of the study highlight the institutional structure for implementing OH&S standards, prevailing economic climate, and extended family culture as challenges to the management of OH&S. The study identifies low literacy levels, low socioeconomic status of workers, owner/managers’ ignorance of their OH&S responsibilities, commitment to extended family obligations, and ineffective OH&S administration as key factors limiting the capacity of construction SMEs to manage OH&S effectively. The study concludes that effective institutional structure and an enabling socioeconomic environment are needed to enhance the OH&S performance of SMEs and advocates for more proactive OH&S management that take into consideration the work cultures of SMEs.