ISO 45001 – What’s it all about?

by Fleming. Team

Simon Toseland, Norse Group, UK, Head of Health & Safety
Over 6300 people die each day from work-related accidents or diseases – that’s nearly 2.3million every year.

ISO 45001 is the new International Standard for Occupational Health and Safety Management System requirements, and is designed to combat this unacceptable statistic. It has been prepared by an International Committee (entitled ISO PC 283) comprised of members from over 40 countries –including those from Australia, China, Uganda and the United States of America (USA). The Committee also includes representatives from a number of the world’s leading health and safety bodies, including the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the National Examining Board of Safety and Health (NEBOSH).

For some, the change is well overdue. Other standards such as those for Quality (ISO 9001) and Environmental (ISO 14001) have already been brought into line with the Annex SL structure. With Health and Safety now following suit it will mean that, for the first time, all three disciplines will share common clauses, terms and definitions which will in turn facilitate ‘true’ integration.
Although fulfilling the strict requirements of the ISO can be rigorous, compliance can bring big rewards. Some of the most obvious business benefits include reputational improvement; a reduction in accidents and absenteeism; and the ability to retain and attract new clients. ISO accreditation also provides reassurance of legal compliance (as a minimum), and can aid the recruitment process as well as improving existing employee retention.

The new standard hails far wider ‘humanitarian’ benefits than that of its predecessor (OHSAS 18001). One of the key criteria is that of clause 4.1 (Internal and External context): Organisations will now be required to demonstrate that they have ‘self-evaluated’ and are aware about how their activities might impact on the wider environment – for example, ensuring that any goods or products procured have been ‘responsibly’ sourced.

Another significant feature is based around Leadership and Commitment. It has long been recognised that effective health and safety stems from the top. Senior Management must now be able to validate that they have provided direction and support in regards health and safety management. In essence, health and safety must be seen as something that is integral to the way in which a business operates – not just a bolt on extra!

The view is that for those organisations that already have OHSAS 18001 (or are working closely to it), the transition to a new set of standards will be a smooth one – as due to the similarities, many businesses will already be fulfilling a large portion of the required activities (and will therefore be well on the way to accreditation.) On the other hand, for Countries like the USA whose approach to health and safety management is largely based on compliance (as opposed to adopting a more risk based approach), the switch will undoubtedly be more demanding.

There are a number of real and significant challenges with bringing a new standard such as this to implementation: First is the language of ISO 45001. As with many high level legislative documents, the wording of the latest ISO standards might not be the easiest to digest and interpret, but it needed to be written in such a way that it can be translated into numerous different dialects across the world and still retain its sense. Additionally, although the name of the standard might seem like a trivial matter it did require some careful planning: David Smith, Chair of ISO PC 283, explained that 45001 was chosen not simply because it was the highest number available, but because there also needed to scope for further evolution. With this kind of naming convention in place, future iterations of this set of standards can be sensibly named to form part of the 45000 series – 45002, 45003…etc. etc.

The launch date for ISO 45001 is expected to fall in October 2016 and it is anticipated that its arrival will completely replace the existing OHSAS 18001 framework. Although there are some similarities, the new ISO legislation introduces some significant new features and so clearly allowances need to be made for a period of transition.

In 2011 it was estimated that there are over 90,000 organisations, across 127 countries, which have been certified with OHSAS 18001. The expectation is that a three-year window should be allowed for adaptation. There will however need to be some common agreement here, particularly from the accrediting bodies that are responsible for carrying out independent endorsements.

It is very difficult to anticipate how successful ISO 45001 will become. The hope is that with ISO status, and with a more generic approach with other management systems, take up will be strong. It is estimated that there are over 1 Million organisations globally that are accredited with ISO 9001. If a similar number buy into ISO 45001 then this can only be a positive step.