In March of 2018, occupational health and safety (OHS) management systems got a global upgrade with the publication of a new International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard. ISO 45001:2018, “Occupational health and safety management systems—Requirements with guidance for use,” has replaced Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001. If you’re planning on maintaining an international OHS management system, the time for migration is now.
When many organizations think about OHS, they immediately think about regulatory compliance matters, from their lockout/tagout programs to their most recent hazard communication training. This has been the case at many companies in the United States since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
But increasingly, government regulation may no longer be the driving force for OHS practices. Many organizations are choosing to go beyond compliance, from employing behavior-based safety (BBS) methods to consideration of Total Worker Health, and many are also moving to a management systems approach as a better way to manage overall organizational risk and achieve a measure of corporate social responsibility.
As a result, international OHS management systems have taken center stage worldwide, and ISO 45001 is the new generation of safety standards.
A little background on OHS management systems
Consensus standards for OHS management systems have been around for a while. The two most widely used have been:
- The American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) Z10 standard, developed under the leadership of the ASSE (now known as ASSP, the American Society of Safety Professionals) and first issued in 2005
- OHSAS 18001 (mentioned above), which was developed by the British Standards Institution (BSI) Group and first issued in 1999
When they were first developed, these two standards were compatible with existing standards for environmental and quality management systems developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO 14001 and ISO 9001). However, beginning in 2012, ISO undertook to harmonize much of the language and structure of its standards, using a new format that diverged from older, non-ISO standards. This project, called the “high-level structure” project, makes it easier for an organization to implement multiple ISO standards because, for example, leadership recommendations are always found in Clause 5 of a given ISO standard, and common definitions (for example, the definition of “organization” or “policy”) are the same across all standards. Both ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 were updated in 2015 and are aligned with ISO’s high-level structure.
In 2013, ISO announced that it would begin developing its own OHS management systems standard, ISO 45001. Initially, ISO hoped to have a draft document of the standard available by 2015 and a final standard by 2016—obviously, that timeline was repeatedly pushed back, but the new standard was finally published on March 12, 2018.
When the standard was released, ISO noted that organizations already certified to OHSAS 18001 would have three years to comply with the new ISO 45001 standard (although certification of conformity to ISO 45001 is not a requirement of the standard). With 2021 now right around the corner, it’s time to get moving if your business has not already made the switch!
Advantages of ISO 45001
The new ISO 45001 standard is an improvement over previous and existing standards for a great many reasons, including:
- It is designed to be easy to migrate to if you already have implemented an existing OHS management standard. Both BSI and ASSP were actively involved in crafting the new standard and have been encouraging organizations to migrate to the ISO standard since before its release
- The new standard follows the same high-level structure as other ISO standards, including ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and ISO 50001 (energy management). In fact, ISO 45001 shares about 50 percent of its language with ISO 9001 and ISO 14001, making implementation relatively seamless for organizations that have already implemented one or both of those standards
- ISO 45001 enables OHS professionals to integrate OHS management more fully into an organization’s overall goals, objectives, and processes
There are several key differences setting ISO 45001 apart from its predecessor, OHSAS 18001. Generally speaking, the latest standard takes a more proactive than reactive stance, a fitting development for a health and safety field that is increasingly putting a focus on leading indicators as well as lagging indicators.
ISO 45001 favors a preventive process that requires hazard risks to be evaluated and remedied before they cause incidents and/or injuries—this differs from OHSAS 18001, which focused only on hazard control. As with other international management system standards, ISO 45001 also requires the active involvement and participation of the entire organization, top to bottom. By providing a framework that secures commitment from management as well as employee participation in safety education and training, the new standard is a valuable asset in both creating and maintaining a positive safety culture that goes far beyond regulatory compliance.
Although the new standard boasts many improvements, it’s also important to note that ISO 45001 keeps all of the beneficial elements of existing standards. For example:
- Many of the policy and resource requirements from OHSAS 18001 can still be found in ISO 45001
- The Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle is the foundational operating principle across both standards
- Naturally, the fundamental intent of ISO 45001 remains the same: preventing injuries, illnesses, and fatalities and creating safer workplaces worldwide
The right tools make migration easy
ISO has step-by-step resources for organizations seeking to migrate to the ISO 45001 management system, and additional software tools can help make the process as smooth as possible. Pairing the right tools with the right management system can give OHS professionals confidence that they are efficiently mitigating risk, preventing incidents, and protecting the health and safety of their entire organization.