Making the Case for OHSAS 18001

June 17, 2004
A leading registrar argues that OHSAS 18001 is emerging as the standard of choice for companies seeking to implement a comprehensive safety management system. Here's why.

by Robin O'Connell

Occupational health and safety management systems are increasingly attractive to progressive organizations. Selecting one to align with can be a greater challenge than the decision to implement a system in the first place.

An occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS) is an organization's outlined approach to health and safety. OHSMSs have been developed for single organizations as well as entire nations. Formal OHSMSs are documented as "standards" that list the management systems' requirements. Although there are a slew of individual and national OHSMSs, OHSAS 18001:1999 has emerged from the pack as the standard of choice.

Many companies are familiar with Geneva, Switzerland's International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9001:2000 approach to quality management. OHSAS 18001 adopts many of the same principles and applies them to the management of health and safety risks. Although not a requirement, companies using ISO 9001:2000 for quality management will find using OHSAS 18001 a good deal easier.

Developed as an international standard international, but not ISO OHSAS 18001:1999 was written to integrate smoothly with ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 for environmental management systems. ISO held votes in 1996 and 2000 to create an ISO OHSMS, but both fell just short of passing.

Following ISO's first failed vote, BSI Management Systems, a management systems registrar, collaborated with occupational health and safety experts from across the registration industry to develop OHSAS 18001:1999. This document outlines the specified requirements for organizations to follow when implementing the management system. Its partner document, OHSAS 18002:2000, is a guideline for implementation of 18001.

In past years, there has been no clear leading OHSMS. There was certainly an interest in establishing one, as ISO's vote sparked great industry discussion regarding the direction of health and safety management systems. The development of OHSAS 18001:1999 provided organizations the opportunity to take their internal OHSMSs to the next level.

Benefits of Implementation

OHSAS 18001 was built along the same lines as ISO management systems that emphasize effectiveness, efficiency and continual improvement from a management system. OHSAS 18001 details fundamental requirements based on the highly successful "plan-do-check-act" method.

Umbrella Protection: OHSAS 18001 implementation immediately provides your organization with preventative measures to protect workers. While many OHSMSs cover specific activities such as accident prevention, health and safety plan maintenance or emergency responses well in their documentation, OHSAS 18001 demands a much broader approach to all three crucial OHS management areas. This "umbrella protection" is extremely difficult to find in OHSMSs that have not been developed by a committee of industry experts.

Certification: OHSAS 18001:1999 allows users to confirm successful implementation through a certification process. Also known as registration, this activity brings in a third-party registrar to assess how an organization has met the OHSAS 18001 requirements.

Reputable registrars, such as BSI Management Systems, provide independent auditors with expertise in the health and safety field to walk through an organization's processes and assess how each required element of the standard has been met. This service is available during every aspect of implementation; pre-assessments, initial assessments and reassessments are all conducted for successful establishment and maintenance of your management system.

All OHSMSs are voluntary to implement and follow. But the added cost of bringing in a respected registrar greatly expands the list of benefits OHSAS 18001 can provide.

One of OHSAS 18001's greatest strengths over other management systems is its requirement for continual improvement. A leading organization cannot remain a leader if it is not improving; this philosophy is applied in OHSAS 18001. Continual improvement is made easier by the need for regular review and feedback, as well as the presence of auditors who can enter an organization and point out areas that can be strengthened. OHSAS 18001 provides this improvement element through registration bodies' experts. Besides confirming that an OHSMS has been implemented successfully, 18001 auditors provide insight regarding areas that can be adjusted to produce a better functioning management system.

Savings: Although there is an initial cost of registering to 18001, the long-term benefits to an organization can result in significant dollar, time and man-day savings.

Minor health and safety incidents may not severely injure, but can cause organization disruption and production delays. The savings that can be realized if these minor events are reduced can be huge. The cost of registration can be surpassed with a single avoided case. Add a reduction in lost time from short- and long-term disability incidents, and significant savings can be seen.

A proactive approach to managing health and safety risks can also produce dollar savings through reduction of health and safety liabilities. Because of this, OHSAS 18001 is often attractive to insurance companies. The standard can also win a great deal of support from the work force when an organization is seen taking active efforts to reduce the level of risk present in the workplace.

Not only can dollar losses be avoided, but dollars can also be gained through registration to OHSAS 18001. When battling for business from a potential customer, a dedication to safety and health can be the aspect that sets you apart from the competition.

Management system success is tracked using measurements appropriate to each individual organization. Proper measurements reveal strengths and weaknesses that may not appear on the surface. OHSAS 18001's registration reassessment program allows for long-term, continual discovery of areas where an organization overachieves, as well as areas in need of improvement.

Recognition & Image: Being registered to a standard is always impressive to customers. An increasing number of industry manufacturers are also beginning to require that their suppliers be certified to standards. Although no OHSMS is currently required, there are legal requirements to meet and lives to protect. While OHSAS 18001 compliance alone does not mean an organization is also in legal compliance, it provides a framework for managing legal responsibilities.

OHSAS 18001's recognizable name is a sign of commitment from top management to employees, customers and potential customers that health and safety is a priority. Registration enhances marketability while increasing worker confidence, and positions any organization to strongly address its industry occupational health and safety regulations.

With increasing globalization, 18001's international status is another outstanding aspect of the standard. As they wrote the standard, OHSAS 18001's compilation of international experts had the interests of many countries in mind. Accessible across the world, OHSAS 18001:1999's benefits can smoothly carry across national borders.

Grand Objective

In today's increasingly competitive business environment, any advantage that can be gained should be sought. Managing the health and safety risks in an organization can save money and provide a great competitive advantage.

The grand objective of any OHSMS is to ensure the best management approach is in place when attempting to achieve maximum health and safety results within your organization. OHSAS 18001:1999 accomplishes this by addressing health and safety with the ideal balance of worker protection and intelligent business management.

Robin O'Connell is head of public relations for BSI Management Systems in the Americas. Contact her in Reston, Va. at [email protected] or (703) 464-1903. Visit:

Sidebar: Jumping on Board

Because OHSAS18001 is a relatively yound standard, it has only been in place in most companies for about a year. While no firm data exists for the number of companies that have obtained 18001 certificates, BSI estimates that 5,000 to 10,000 companies are pursuing or holding 18001 certificates. In January 2004, according to QSU Publishing, more than 36,000 companies had ISO 9000 registration and nearly 3,700 companies had ISO 14001 registration.

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