It is now just over a year since the new international standard ISO 45001 for occupational health and safety management systems was introduced following almost five years of development.
There can be little doubt that the standard has introduced some significant improvements to workplace health and safety management practices for those organisations who have adopted its principles, whether they have ultimately sought external certification or not.
While there are specific requirements relating to understanding the full context of the organisation, procurement and outsourcing, supply chain management, continual improvement, provision of resources and risk management, the three over-riding themes of the standard are: top management leadership and commitment; worker participation and consultation; and integration of health and safety across the business processes.
Having carried out audits, awareness workshops and gap analysis against the new standard for organisations from many differing sectors, it is clear to me that these requirements have brought about a need for a different mindset and approach from top management levels in many cases. This could reasonably be interpreted as a successful effect of ISO 45001.
The explicit requirements placed on top management in relation to developing, leading and promoting a positive culture within the organisation, should ensure that this level of management is proactively and demonstrably engaged with internal and external stakeholders in relation to health and safety issues.
During my work with organisations around the new standard, it has been interesting to observe how differently this level of engagement from top management is perceived within, sometimes, the same business!
For example, the setting of objectives, ensuring health and safety performance is reviewed regularly at board level and providing suitable resources has often been reasonably cited by top and senior management as demonstration of commitment. However, it has frequently been the case that other internal stakeholders have little awareness or understanding of these factors due to poor communication and consultation and, therefore, see little relevance of these issues to their role within the organisation.
The standard has undoubtedly raised the expectations placed on top management in relation to health, safety and wellbeing within the workplace and this has been, in my view, its most effective and successful area of impact. Together with the impact – both actual and potential – of the revised sentencing guidelines, there can be little or no excuse for any senior manager to not embrace good health and safety practices within all aspects of their role.
Another positive aspect of the new standard has been the requirement to demonstrate worker participation – defined as ‘involvement in the decision-making process’–, and particularly non-managerial groups, in key aspects of health and safety management.
Again, in my experience to date, organisations can readily point to involvement of the workforce through staff surveys, suggestion schemes, health and safety committees, but often struggle to demonstrate actual implementation of meaningful actions arising from these processes.
Possibly one area where ISO 45001 has missed an opportunity is to place a strong enough emphasis on workplace health and psychosocial issues, such as stress management. Although it is perhaps understandable that the intended global scope of the standard would possibly inhibit too many explicit or prescriptive requirements in this area, there is no doubt that the issue of workplace health and wellbeing has, rightly so, become much more prominent in recent years.
It is encouraging however to note that the ISO technical committee is currently reviewing this issue, and psychosocial risk management in particular, which will hopefully lead to more informed guidance on the interpretation.
In summary then, so far so good for the new standard. There can be no doubt that the requirements within the standard have raised the bar in health and safety management practice, especially in respect of the leadership and commitment of top management.
David Parr is director of policy and technical services at the British Safety Council
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