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ISO 45001: The Benefits of Change

A look at how to assess the value of ISO 45001 and what it could mean for your organization and workforce.

A question I’m often asked is: If our current EHS management system is working for us, why should we be interested in ISO 45001?

OHSAS 18001 has been a very useful standard to help businesses structure their approach to managing health and safety, but 18001 will be retired in 2021 and we now have an actual international standard in ISO 45001.

Removing OHSAS 18001 is a dilemma for some organizations: why change if things are working? However, you can’t be assessed against a retired standard. To continue to receive the benefits of external validation, moving to ISO 45001 is the best solution. ISO 45001 includes some very important improvements over OHSAS 18001, including greater emphasis on workers and their participation.

Other improvements include an enhanced approach to managing the health and safety of contractors and making health and safety part of the purchasing decision-making process. There’s greater emphasis on leadership participation, change management and performance management.

What would happen if you did nothing?

Hopefully nothing, but when OHSAS 18001 becomes redundant, you will no longer have an externally assessed management system and you will lose the benefit of the “fresh eyes” approach.

Often supply chain requirements have health and safety elements. For example, it is often a customer requirement to have an externally assessed and certified health and safety management system. Where this is the case, it may be difficult to meet your contractual requirements when OHSAS 18001 has gone.

There are additional benefits from implementing management systems other than the increased control of hazard and risk, such as potentially lower insurance premiums, better employee retention and morale, outside investment, clear management information and much more.

How different is ISO 45001 from OHSAS 18001?

In essence, they are very similar. OHSAS 18001 and ISO 45001 both have the aim of reducing deaths, injury and illness through a structured approach to identifying, assessing and controlling risk, and they’ve both got the aim of continual improvement through risk reduction.

There are some differences regarding the structure of the standards and the content. ISO 45001 follows the same high-level structure as other international standards such as ISO 9001 and ISO 14001.

ISO 45001 helps users to manage risk as a business process rather than as a standards approach. One of the key improvements to ISO 45001 includes opportunity management as well as risk management, which supports the continual improvement approach.

Linking health and safety with business strategy is another great improvement, as is the enhanced role of leadership and management teams. Health and safety needs to focus on people and their interaction within the workplace, so worker participation and inclusion have also been strengthened.

What are some concerns about implementing or migrating to ISO 45001?

Organizations seem mostly concerned about the effort that it will take to migrate to ISO 45001. The enhancements and the new requirements of the standard mean that if you have a proactive approach to health and safety management, these elements may already be in place.

There is no real increase in the requirement for documentation other than to evidence the requirements with the retention of documented information or records. OHSAS 18001 has never mandated the requirements for documented procedures and neither does ISO 45001. Both standards require a risk-based approach to documented information to ensure that only the procedures, forms and records and instructions that are necessary to manage risks are in place. Both OHSAS 18001 and ISO 45001 require the complexity of documentation to be kept to the minimum.

Where does the true value lie within ISO 45001?

True implementation of a structured approach to managing health and safety means implementing a system and not a standard. Organizations that implement a standard tend to focus on compliance and not the effectiveness. The true value of ISO 45001 comes from linking the business strategy and the health and safety management system—not developing a standalone set of documents.

Using ISO 45001 to help manage risks and contractors, core and support processes, equipment and people gives you the opportunity not only to control but to assess and improve the health and safety of workers and others. Certification to ISO 45001 gives you the opportunity to identify improvements and further reduce the risk of injury, illness and death.

What are the obstacles to adoption or implementation?

If an organization truly seeks to reduce the risks of illness, injury and death then it should do all it can in its endeavors, using all best practice and guidance from all possible sources. The main obstacles come from misunderstanding the real purpose of ISO 45001. The standard itself has been written for businesses to identify, assess, manage and reduce risk. Secondary to this is the benefit gained for certification. Organizations that see ISO standards as bureaucratic have misunderstood their purpose, so if you are sincerely interested in protecting workers, contractors, visitors and neighbors, then there should be no objection to adopting ISO 45001.

Tim Sparey is business improvement services manager with Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance, a provider of independent assessment services including certification, validation, verification and training.

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