And I'll Visit Dracula's Castle

May 10, 2002
In the land of this Transylvanian myth, as in much of the rest of the world, occupational health and safety management systems are very much alive. Here's why.

I'm teaching a course, "Environmental/Occupational Health and Safety Management System Standards" (E&OHS MS) in Romania. I'll be there for two weeks and will have time during one weekend to visit the Transylvanian home of Dracula's Castle. I understand that they are in the process of building "Draculand." (I am not sure what to think about such a project.)

My course curriculum includes the ISO 9000 manufacturing quality management systems standard, manufacturing sector-specific management system standards (such as QS 9000 for the auto industry and HACCP 9000

for the food industry), the ISO 14000 environmental management systems standard and the many occupational health and safety (OHS) management systems (MS) standards. OHS management systems covered include the British Standards 8800 and the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Specification (OHSAS) 18001, the American Industrial Hygiene Association's (AIHA) and American Chemistry Council's management systems and, most importantly, the new International Labor Organization (ILO) Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems.

The course also includes a lot of material about traditional auditing systems and the "management system" type of audit, which focuses on root-cause analysis and the specification of corrective and preventive action plans. This is the section of the course of greatest interest to the students, because the auditor has a central role in these systems. No longer are we simply asked to wait until the government inspector shows up. Now we, in our role as MS auditors, have a central role in the design and business planning process of our companies.

Global Effort

There was a time when representatives of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group for TC-207 (ISO 14000) said to those who were working on an OHSMS: "Stop pushing this idea - no one wants it, and it is a burden on industry." Almost simultaneously, a very high-level delegation that purported to represent industry's interests visited an AIHA board meeting and demanded that AIHA stop working on this useless, intrusive idea. At the same time, organized labor was also decidedly cool about the idea of a management system standard rather than the traditional approach embodied by specification standards and technically based regulations.

Fortunately, none of the many groups around the world stopped working on OHSMS. All felt that this was so important a strategy, and so congruent with the strategic needs of industry, that it was worth working on despite the arguments of those opposing voices (see "Will There be an OHSMS?" Occupational Hazards, October 2000). Now, the British OHSMS standard is being adopted by companies the world over in the form of OHSAS 18001, which requires organizations to conduct an annual risk assessment, use it as the basis to set goals, and put policies and procedures in place to address those goals [see "Management's Big Payoff," Occupational Hazards, March 2002). Moreover, the U.S. ANSI Z-10 secretariat is working with AIHA on a U.S. national OHSMS, and the ILO OHSMS is being translated into all the world's languages and being enthusiastically embraced by many national bodies. This has not in any way been an individual or national effort. It is a global effort that has been initiated and sustained by members of all stakeholder groups over the past decade.

These globe-spanning initiatives are very important because they represent the fruit of the work of industry, labor and government stakeholders to better protect workers while using a strategy that is congruent with and central to good business practice. The ILO standard, or "guidance document," is perhaps the most important of all of these. As a global standard, it is defacto World Trade Organization (WTO)-legal. What does that mean? It means that it is legal for use as a contract specification for bidders of private- and public-sector contracts anywhere in the world [see "Conformance of ISO OHSMS Standards in Public-Sector Procurement Specifications to the GATT/WTO Requirements," AIHA J. 57: 936-944 (1996)].

The issue of the application of an OHSMS to requirements for contract qualification potentially is enormous. In a recent white paper and position statement, AIHA addressed the issue of the use of OHS metrics for such purposes (see, and a recent article in this magazine dealt with this important subject (see "Using Contract Specifications to Build Leverage," Occupational Hazards, January 2001).

The ILO standard was written and approved by a tripartite body (industry, labor, government) and was based on a learned report commissioned by the ILO through the International Occupational Hygiene Association (IOHA) [see Dalrymple, Redinger, Dyjack, Levine, Mansdorf, "Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems: Review and Analysis of International, National and Regional Systems, and Proposals for a New International Document,", International Labor Organization, Geneva, (1999)].

Interestingly, the authors of this report include one of the authors of British OHSMS standard 8800, two past presidents of AIHA and two Ph.D.s who did their doctoral work on this subject. This is the same team that is writing the Implementation Manual for the ILO OHSMS under contract from IOHA. One of the goals of this Implementation Manual is that it help small and medium enterprises (SME) to adopt the OHSMS methodology. This will be the biggest challenge facing us as a profession - the application of OHSMS to SMEs in First-, Second- and Third-World countries. Professional efforts will be remembered by how well this goal is accomplished.

Spreading the Word

So I am going to Romania to teach E&OHS MS. Previously, I taught this course in Bulgaria, Serbia and Brazil, and to graduate students at the University of Michigan and Tulane University. Taiwan's OSHA sent a student to Michigan to take this course. Redinger and Dyjack have taught similar courses to AIHA and university audiences. Our graduates have become leaders in the application of OHSMS in countries such as Korea and Thailand.

The word is being spread, workers are being better-protected by OHSMS, and businesses are applying this method to their facilities [see "Evaluation of an Occupational Health and Safety Management System Performance Measurement Tool - II: Scoring Methods and Field Study Sites" and "- III: Measurement of Initiation Elements," AIHA J. 63: 34-46 (2002)].

When the OHS profession first started down this path, Bill Borwegen of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) asked, "How is OHSMS applicable to the protection of the health and safety of SEIU workers [such as janitors, nurses and the like]?" With OHSMS being taught in all corners of the globe and being embraced by OHS professionals from all types of organizations, the answer to that question is just now being discovered. Last week, I reviewed a doctoral thesis from the University of Western Sydney in which OHSMS was applied to health care workers in nursing homes in Australia. That is but one example of "the answer" for the members of SEIU and for the workers, governments and industries of the world.

About the author: Contributing Editor Steven P. Levine, Ph.D., CIH, is past president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association. He is a professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan and adjunct professor at the Institute of International Health (IIH) at Michigan State University. Teaching programs in the Balkans are funded by a National Institutes of Health grant to IIH.

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