Is an International OHS Management System Standard Coming?

AIHA's president says that, when it comes to such a standard, the handwriting is on the wall.

I am frequently asked: "Will there be an international OHS management system standard?" People from all around the world are waiting with great anticipation for an integrated occupational hygiene, safety and environmental management system (OHS&E MS) standard! In my view, the compelling case for an integrated OHS&E MS, integral to the quality system of an organization, has been made in many books, papers and presentations and in professional practice on a worldwide scale. The proof of this idea is no longer "new" and the idea no longer "radical." Those who believe that this approach is radical might look to evaluate such policies and practices, just as "benchmark" companies have done.

This integrated system works because it has been, is and will be efficient and effective. Even if we ignore the compelling ethical arguments in favor of using all available effective tools in our arsenal to protect workers domestically and globally, there is ample evidence of why clear-seeing organizations will implement such an approach -- it represents good business.

ISO 14001, as a pure environmental management system without occupational hygiene and safety aspects integral to its philosophy and practice, simply is illogical. Even in past national and international meetings during which "international ISO standard for OHS was turned down by the overwhelming consensus of representatives from industry, labor and various governments from both developed and developing countries," this was already a moot point. During the time of this debate, an article was published in Occupational Hazards titled "IBM spells SAFETY I-S-O." Indeed, a representative of one of the largest companies in the world stood up in one of these debates and said: "Whom do we think we are kidding? We are either already doing this [integrated OHS&E MS] or are planning to do it because it makes sense!"

Let us hope that practitioners and policymakers alike will embrace this idea. There are many such efforts in progress. The British Standards Institute (BSI) has its BS 8800 and OHSAS 18001 products, which are widely used around the world by Japanese companies. The American Industrial Hygiene Association has its ISO 9001-based OHS MS and its new ANSI Z-10 Committee for Occupational Health and Safety Systems. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has its landmark 1999 report surveying and analyzing the world's OHS management system standards. These groups are leading the way.

In time, this will become the accepted practice worldwide. In terms of a formal international standard, this will be accomplished by including OHS as a clearly integrated part of ISO 14001:200X, or as a new ISO or ILO OHS MS standard.

On April 19, results of an international vote by ISO-member countries were announced concerning a proposal by the British Standards Institute for a "new" field of technical activity in ISO in the field of occupational health and safety management systems. There were 29 countries in favor and 20 opposed. Thus, the two-thirds majority needed to move this item to the ISO Technical Management Board for action was not achieved, and the proposal was not approved.

This is a great victory in defeat! Despite well-organized, well-funded opposition to this British proposal, 59 percent voted in favor of the proposal, short of the required 67 percent. Once again, the handwriting is on the wall. This logical approach to improving OHS will undoubtedly soon achieve the required two-thirds majority, and unfettered work to achieve a true international consensus of stakeholders will proceed.

When that happens, an integrated OHS&E MS standard will become part of the world's contract specification systems. A prospective "ISO 1X000" for health and safety was tabled by ISO, but the need for integrating health and safety issues into the corporate management system nonetheless remains. Perhaps ILO or a consensus of national organizations such as BSI and its counterparts in Japan, Australia and elsewhere will, in the fullness of time and with a true tripartite consensus, lead the way where ISO has not gone.

OHS and management consultants are already using the integrated OHS&E MS approach to spur their clients to move to the next level of corporate control of their resources. Risk managers are using the information as a guideline to move forward with their management. Management and CFOs now understand why their safety and management consultants have suggested that they adopt this integrated management systems OHS approach.

Contributing Editor Steven P. Levine, Ph.D., CIH2, is president of the American Industrial Hygiene Association. He is a professor of environmental health sciences and co-director of the University of Michigan WHO Collaborating Center for Occupational Health.

Please note that the discussion herein represents my personal opinion and not necessarily that of AIHA or its Board of Directors.

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