Don’t take safety for granted

The principle of continual improvement has long been accepted as a key component of effective health and safety management, and the plan-do-check-act cycle is widely recognised throughout the world.

However, while there are well established international standards for effective management of quality and the environment, health and safety has lagged behind. For many years, attempts to establish a truly international standard for health and safety management have failed, and while local standards have been set, the lack of a consistent international approach has been a real challenge for businesses.

I’m delighted that this situation has finally been addressed and that the new standard ISO 45001 has been approved and launched across the world. I very much hope that this will mark a step change, help to drive real improvement in health and safety, and provide consistency of approach for businesses working internationally.

ISO 45001 has its origins in the same base standard as ISO 9001 and ISO 14001, so I’m sure that the structure and approach will be familiar to many of you, as well as complementary to the management systems in your businesses. 

Of course, the principle of continuous improvement to deliver incremental change towards best practice is absolutely at the heart of the new standard. We focused on this during our recent conferences in Bahrain and Dubai, where panels of experts reflected on the core components of effective risk management and discussed elements of best practice. 

Process safety management is of particular interest in the Middle East. The consequences of failure in the high-hazard sector can be catastrophic, so the principles of audit and control are absolutely key here. There is significant experience in these sectors, which could be applied to support effective health and safety management in other sectors too. We remain committed to promoting shared learning to assist businesses in their adoption of ISO 45001.

Fire safety is a familiar and sometimes overlooked area of risk, which was brought into sharp focus again by the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower in London in June 2017. Never has there been a more salutary lesson in the importance of ensuring continual improvement. It’s too easy to assume that risk is being managed because procedures are in place, but we can never afford to take anything for granted. Audit and review are essential in delivering effective ongoing control of all active risks.

The introduction of ISO 45001 represents a really significant milestone in the field of health and safety management. It has the potential to deliver a step change in approach and drive real performance improvement right across the world, not just because it promotes continuous improvement, but because it puts a focus on leadership, consultation and engagement as core components of effective health and safety management. This will help to raise the profile of health and safety in organisations and to drive cultural change, shifting the focus from compliance to engagement.

This has long been recognised as good practice in high-performing businesses and safety-critical environments, but the new standard will provide some structure to help other organisations assess their performance in key areas and to establish plans to drive improvement and deliver tangible benefits in terms of health, safety and productivity.

As partners, advocates and advisors to businesses across the world, we understand the challenges associated with implementing effective management systems and embedding best practice principles, but we are committed to supporting you all as you strive to achieve this in your business.

Mike Robinson FCA is chief executive of the British Safety Council