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Be a leader; safety moves forward

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A new international standard for occupational health and safety management systems, ISO 4500, is now available. While the development of the new standard has not been without difficulties, its significance should not be underestimated.


More than 65 countries have provided 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.

The new standard is a significant step forward from the current requirements of BS OHSAS 18001 and that organisations who are currently accredited to 1800 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 towards 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 towards improving health and safety standards while enabling local regulatory requirements to be satisfied.

The central themes of the standard are leadership and worker involvement. Photograph: iStock/julief514

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, which is 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 towards 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.

From now on, 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 that occupational health and safety policy and objectives are 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.

It is well recognised that 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.

The standard's demands of top management level may present some challenges to organisations. Photograph: iStock

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 towards the development, implementation and continual improvement of the OHSMS.

It is important to note 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”, for example. 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 actual or potential impact of its operational activities, the scope and content of the OHSMS can be determined on an informed basis.

Steps to transition to ISO 45001

  • Develop a coherent transition plan identifying any resources, communications, training and support 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.

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.

Book British Safety Council workshops on ISO 45001 at www.britsafe.org/iso45001

David Parr is head of audit and technical at the British Safety Council

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