Better Ways to Improve Worker Health and Safety in Small to Midsize Businesses — Occupational Health & Safety

Better Ways to Improve Worker Health and Safety in Small to Midsize Businesses

Better Ways to Improve Worker Health and Safety in Small to Midsize Businesses

What role can tax incentives, subsidies and grant programs can play in a business?

The strengthening U.S. economy in recent years has nurtured many opportunities for ambitious entrepreneurs based on the rising number of small to midsize enterprises (SMEs). In 2022, the number of small businesses in the U.S. reached 33.2 million, making up nearly all (99.9 percent) of all U.S. businesses. The increase in the number of small businesses in the U.S. is representative of sustained growth as it marks a 2.2 percent increase from the previous year and an overall growth of 12.2 percent from 2017 to 2022. The numbers exclude the self-employed workers who work as delivery and transport drivers, seasonal, temporary, contract and casual work, street vendors, private home healthcare workers, legal and financial services, etc. Midsized businesses typically have less than 500 workers with revenues between $10 million and $1 billion.

Did you know the average small business employs about 11 workers? These numbers fluctuate widely based on the economy, geographic location and business. The average woman-owned business employs about eight workers compared to 12 for businesses run by men. The breakdown was similar for minority-owned businesses compared to non-minority-owned ones, with the former employing eight workers and about 11.5 for the latter, according to U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) statistics. Prevention of occupational injury and illness is often difficult in SMEs because employers have limited resources, fail to understand the risk, cannot hire staff devoted to these activities and often lack the knowledge of available resources. So why doesn’t the federal and state government provide a financial incentive to improve the work environment and reduce the risk? By reinvesting in SMEs to protect workers, the outcome could be far more prosperous for business, society and the economy.

There are tax incentives, subsidies and grant programs available for businesses. These financial incentives encourage the creation and preservation of family-wage jobs, especially in areas with high unemployment. But what about using these instruments to help business owners improve their workplace to reduce occupational injury and illness and lower operating costs? Tax incentives are codified exemptions, credits, deductions or exclusions that reduce a company’s tax liability to the state or federal government in exchange for making certain choices (e.g., reduce its environmental footprint, increase health benefits, support minorities, etc.). Business owners can then use that funds to hire consultants to inspect job sites, develop written programs, conduct exposure risk assessments and audits, provide training, purchase new equipment and invest in other aspects for business growth and improvement. Tax incentives are available for business energy investments and relief from major disasters but not for occupational safety and health.

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