The new, internationally accepted occupational health and safety management systems standard requires the entire system to act as a preventative tool rather than a guideline to meeting regulations

ISO 45001 is the first international occupational health and safety management system standard. It was established to address the critical need for the development of a formidable occupational health and safety (OHS) management system that addresses the dismal OHS performance of organisations globally.

Annually, worldwide, 2,7 million people suffer a workplace fatality, with 340-million people suffering non-fatal, work-related injuries or illnesses.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) initiated the development of the new OHS management system standard in 2013 to assist organisations in providing safe and healthy workplaces for their employees and interested parties.

The journey started in London and took ISO five years to complete with the joint collaboration of around 88 countries and 114 experts.

One of the criteria in the development of the international OHS Management system was to harmonise national and other OHS management systems like ILO OSHMS, OHSAS 18001, ANSI Z10 and AS/NZS 4801, as well as to establish globally accepted requirements.

The intention was to establish best practices for both developed and developing countries and have a single international standard in place that all countries and organisations could use.

With this standard in place, together with the right infrastructure and training, organisations will be better equipped to address OHS risks; prevent deaths; work-related injury and ill-health; while continually improving their OHS performance.

ISO 45001 is based on the High-Level Structure (HLS) for better compatibility with other widely used management system standards, improved governance and easier implementation within organisations.

The HLS also allows for full integration with these management systems, providing an integrated approach to organisational management. This reflects the increasingly complex environments in which organisations operate and enhances an organisation’s ability to address its health and safety risks.

The new standard also uses the Annex SL format, which simply means that the ISO 45001 management system standard is aligned to and utilises the same common structure, definitions and core text that is used for the latest ISO 14001:2015 Environmental Management System and ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management System standards.

This format will benefit organisations with an ease of functionality and integration when implementing and maintaining multiple management system standards.

An important and key aspect of ISO 45001 is the concept of “risk-based” thinking that is now embedded within the requirements of the standard. The risk-management principles, which address risks and opportunities as described in the ISO 31000 risk-management standard, form the foundation of the new OHS management system.

ISO 45001 requires organisations to implement processes for the elimination of hazards and the reduction of OHS risks. This approach ensures that risks can be timeously and correctly identified, so that the effective controls can be implemented. This may combine several steps in mitigation of these risks.

Users of OHSAS 18001, which is one of the most widely used OHS management systems, are all too familiar with the requirements of “preventive action”. However, this requirement no longer forms part of the Annex SL text and is not included in ISO 45001 OHS management system.

This is because the entire OHS system is now expected to act as a preventive tool. This position greatly changes the focus of OHS management systems, since it no longer merely looks at compliance issues, but at the sustainability of organisations.

The other major difference between OHSAS 18001 and ISO 45001, is that ISO 45001 concentrates on the interaction between an organisation and its business environment, while OHSAS 18001 was focused on managing OHS hazards and other internal issues.

These two standards also diverge in other ways. ISO 45001 is process-based and takes into consideration
both risk and opportunities, making it dynamic; whereas OHSAS 18001 is procedure-based and focuses exclusively on OHS risks, in turn excluding the views of interested parties.

In this new standard, organisations must look beyond their immediate OHS issues and consider what the wider society expects of them. They are required to check that contractors and suppliers have systems in place to address OHS issues. Organisations must also consider the impact of their activities on their surrounding neighbours, community and society.

ISO 45001 insists that these OHS issues be embodied in the overall management system of the organisation, which requires a much stronger buy-in from management and leadership.

This will be a challenge, since many organisations delegate responsibility for OHS to other personnel rather than integrating it entirely into the organisation’s operations to ensure accountability at leadership level.

The ISO 45001 OHS Management System standard has, therefore, been designed in a way that assists organisations to improve their resilience by ensuring that they can anticipate, prepare, respond and adapt to changes, so that they not only survive, but prosper.

ISO 45001 ensures that OHS management is aligned with the strategic direction of the organisation, increases involvement of the leadership team and improves OHS performance.

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