Rapidly rising insurance costs are the biggest threat to Irish small businesses, costing 1,200 jobs, the Small Firms Association (SFA) has revealed.

The SFA's national survey showed insurance was top of the "dirty dozen" negative factors impacting on small businesses' ability to invest, develop and expand.

More than 1,000 companies responded to the survey carried out in the first quarter of the year.

Insurance costs were the biggest difficulty cited by 21% of respondents. Over 90% of respondents identified insurance costs as one of their top 12 problems.

SFA director Pat Delaney said recent SFA analysis had shown insurance costs increased by an average of 41% in 2002, with some companies experiencing increases of up to 70%.

He said spiralling insurance costs had led to 1,200 job losses.