Launched 12 March, a new international standard for occupational health and safety management systems, ISO 45001, is now available.
Whilst the development of the new standard has not been without difficulties, the significance of ISO 45001 should not be under estimated. As there have been more than 65 countries providing input to this process for the last four years, and it may well eventually replace up to 24 national health and safety standards including the current widely recognised BS OHSAS 18001 standard, this makes ISO 45001 arguably the most important health and safety management standard ever developed.
It is worth emphasising that the new standard is a significant step forward from the current requirements of BS OHSAS 18001 and that organisations who are currently accredited to 18001 may well have some work to do to ensure the transition to ISO 45001.
Why is a new international standard needed?
The new standard is a natural progression from the current OHSAS 18001 model and is reflective of contemporary health and safety management issues and trends. It has become more and more apparent that there is a need to harmonise and update variations in standards of OHSMS and indeed regional interpretation of OHSAS 18001 requirements, into an internationally recognised standard for safety management systems.
Further, as more and more organisations move toward integrated safety, environmental and quality (SHEQ) management systems (or at least a standard approach) then clearly a consistent and universally recognised model is required. ISO 45001 will ensure a globalised approach toward improving health and safety standards whilst enabling local regulatory requirements to be satisfied.
What are the main components of the new standard?
ISO 45001 is based upon the 10 main clauses of the ISO management systems standard Annex SL and is aligned to other international management standards such as environmental and quality. However, there are some 43 sub-clauses and an Annex which provides a general outline of the intention of each clause content.
The central themes of the standard, namely leadership (specifically at top management level) and worker participation may well present some challenges to organisations when adopting the standard. ISO 45001 explicitly focuses on the commitment of top management toward developing, implementing and maintaining an effective safety management system and to ensure the requirements of the OHSMS are aligned with and integrated into the business processes.
Organisations will be required to tangibly demonstrate leadership in health and safety matters across all levels within the business.
There are in fact explicit requirements placed on top management, including:
- Ensuring OH&S (policy and objectives) is an integral part of the overall strategic business planning, linked to corporate targets and processes
- Top management awareness of, and involvement with, health and safety issues to ensure effective implementation of OHSMS
- Monitoring of performance
- Ensuring adequate resources are provided for the effective implementation and ongoing improvement of the OHSMS
- Supporting leadership behaviours at all levels of management
- Developing, leading and promoting a safety culture
- Ensuring processes for consultation and participation of workers
- Developing, leading and promoting a culture that supports the OHSMS
- Protecting workers from reprisals when reporting incidents and hazards
The success of any health and safety management system is dependent upon leadership, commitment and participation from all levels and functions of the organisation. However, it is unquestionably true that the ethos and practices of any organisation is driven from the top level of that business.
Another explicit requirement, and theme running through the standard, is in relation to the consultation with and participation (involvement with decision making process) of workers toward the development, implementation and continual improvement of the OHSMS.
Remembering that the definition of worker (clause 3) extends to beyond employees to include “anyone who is carrying out activities under the control of the organisation” (e.g. contractors, agency staff, volunteers). Most organisations will be able to demonstrate consultation processes (health and safety committees etc) but that actual participation may be a more challenging aspect of the standard to verify.
Another significant aspect introduced within the new standard is the concept of considering the full context of the organisation which is required by clause 4 (4.1).
It is essential that organisations can identify, control and reduce relevant risks and opportunities. By understanding the overall context of the organisation and the impact (actual or potential) of its operational activities, the scope and content of the OHSMS can be determined on an informed basis.
How to plan for transition to ISO 45001
So how should you be planning for the transition to the new ISO 45001 standard?
In the first instance:
- Develop a coherent transition plan which will identify any resources, communications, training and support that may be required to ensure all relevant stakeholders are familiar with the requirements of the process.
- Communicate and consult with internal stakeholders, especially senior management, to ensure understanding and ownership of the OHSMS. This may involve training and educating certain levels of management and staff dependent upon size and scope of the organisation itself.
- Review current levels of leadership and commitment within the organisation, particularly at senior management level. Be realistic and open during this process!
- Monitor and communicate regularly progress toward achievement of the transition plan to promote and maintain awareness and understanding.
In conclusion then, ISO 45001 is a significant step forward for health and safety management and offers a contemporary and well-structured framework designed to integrate health and safety across all aspects of the business. I will be providing an update on the standard at the upcoming British Safety Council Striving for Excellence conferences in Bahrain and Dubai in April.