by Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis
Whether it’s a failure to protect workers against toxic chemicals, or a sleep-deprived employee getting into a fatal car accident, millions of people are hurt or killed at work each year. Now, with the arrival of the world’s first international standard on occupational health and safety, such incidents can be prevented. Uncover why ISO 45001 has the potential to be a real game changer for millions of workers (and workplace health hazards) around the world.
The next time someone tells you “my job is killing me,” remember that it may not just be a figure of speech. Every 15 seconds, a worker dies from a work-related accident or disease, and 153 people experience a work-related injury. And now there’s new data that workplace accidents are on the rise, amounting to some 500,000 more injuries than just three years ago.
According to recent calculations by the International Labour Organization (ILO), 2.78 million deaths occur due to work yearly. This means that, every day, almost 7, 700 persons die of work-related diseases or injuries. In 2014, the figure was estimated to be only 2.3 million, a discrepancy that may be attributed to increasing life expectancy and new data utilized in recent calculations. Additionally, there are some 374 million non-fatal work-related injuries and illnesses each year, many of these resulting in extended absences from work. This paints a sober picture of the modern workplace—one where workers can suffer serious consequences as a result of simply “doing their job”.
Along with a growing (and enormous) cost for workers and their families, occupational health and safety (OH&S) has staggering impacts on economic and social development. The United Nations agency unveiled estimates showing that, worldwide, the total cost of illnesses, injuries and deaths was 3.94 percent of the global gross domestic product (GDP), or about USD 2.99 trillion, in direct and indirect costs of injuries and diseases.
But there’s more. The economic impact of failing to invest in worker safety and health is nearly equal to the combined GDP of the 130 poorest countries in the world, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said at last year’s XXI World Congress on Safety and Health at Work in Singapore. Indeed, the scale of the challenge is huge.
Supply chain complexities
OH&S has grown increasingly complicated with many of today’s businesses crossing national boundaries. The dispersed nature of supply chains creates escalating levels of risk for multinational businesses, making OH&S both critical and complex. Consider this. Without effective OH&S in their supply chains, management potentially has a significant blind spot in their enterprise management structure, from which substantial legal, financial and reputational exposure could emerge. An organization must therefore look beyond its immediate health and safety issues and take into account what the wider society expects of it. What’s more, it also has to think about its contractors and suppliers, since the way they do their work might affect their neighbours in the surrounding area.
Clearly, OH&S in the supply chain isn’t easily achieved; it requires a solid foundation and continual improvement over time. This is where ISO 45001 comes in. ISO 45001 is the world’s first International Standard for occupational health and safety. It provides governmental agencies, industry and other affected stakeholders with effective, usable guidance for improving worker safety in countries around the world. By means of an easy-to-use framework, it can be applied to both captive and partner factories and production facilities, regardless of their location.
Nearly a hundred experts participated in the development of ISO 45001—led by ISO project committee ISO/PC 283, Occupational health and safety management systems – together with dozens of organizations including the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), the world’s largest professional body for people responsible for safety and health in the workplace. IOSH acts as a champion, supporter, adviser, advocate and trainer for safety and health professionals working in organizations of all sizes. Having been closely involved in the development of ISO 45001 as an organization in liaison to ISO/PC 283, IOSH is now helping its 46 000 members around the world to transition to the new standard.
Richard Jones, head of policy and public affairs at IOSH, is a foremost expert on OH&S and has contributed as a liaison body leader to the development of ISO 45001. For him, it all comes down to workplace health and safety transcending national and economic boundaries. “In our increasingly globalized world, with the development of extended and complex supply chains and growth in migrant and vulnerable workers, ISO 45001’s emphasis on health and safety management in supply chains should mean that contracting, procurement and outsourcing are more responsibly managed, potentially saving many lives.” This could have far-reaching ramifications, with organizations extending their risk management as far into their supply chains as they have control or influence.
With outsourced processes and subcontractors featuring highly in the standard, organizations can choose to leverage the ISO 45001 management systems approach as a solution to identify, control and continually improve opportunities to reduce or eliminate safety and health risk to workers in the supply chain.
Many employers recognize that successfully managing OH&S risk not only prevents injury, ill health and death, it supports livelihoods, businesses and communities. And the systems approach used by ISO 45001 can help more organizations achieve this.
But what does that look like in practical terms? In order for an OH&S to be strong and healthy, everyone in the organization must feel that he or she shares some responsibility for maintaining a safe environment. This includes employees all the way up to executives.
Companywide engagement is one of the key benefits of ISO 45001. The new standard recognizes the value of worker consultation in the development of better OH&S practices and places greater emphasis on employees actively participating in the development, planning, implementation, and continual improvement of the OH&S management system.
Top management must take an active role, promote a positive culture and communicate what needs to be done and, more to the point, why it’s important. Senior leaders need to demonstrate that they are actively involved and taking steps to integrate the OH&S management system into the overall business processes. “ISO 45001 means more focus on leadership and worker participation as well as ensuring the system takes into account the ‘world’ the organization operates in and the internal and external factors affecting it – known as its context,” Jones said. “It means that top management must take a visible, directing role and be actively involved in the system’s implementation and ensuring its integration with other business systems.”
According to Jones, the system needs to be proportionate to the organization’s risk profile and complexity. For example, in smaller organizations, effective worker participation can be more direct and straightforward to achieve, without the need for formal committee structures and so forth. And there may be additional drivers for improvement, he says. “Client organizations will increasingly require demonstration of good OH&S from those supplying their goods and services, so that they can ensure they are compatible with their own system.”
So what responsibilities do companies have to protect their employees? Employers have a duty to either reduce exposure or equip employees with preventative skills and tools to minimize risk. In other words: prevention pays. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the motto of the XXI World Congress 2017 was “A Global Vision of Prevention”.
Prevention is key to tackling the burden of worker safety, and is considered to be more effective (and less costly) than treatment and rehabilitation. In line with the World Congress motto, ISO 45001 takes on a risk-based approach to managing OH&S.
David Smith, Chair of ISO/PC 283 that developed ISO 45001, says businesses need to ensure they manage all their risks to survive and to thrive. “OH&S is a key aspect, which every business has to manage proactively,” he says. “Apart from the devastating impact on people, poor OH&S management can have many negative effects on organizations, such as the loss of key employees, business interruption, claims, insurance premiums, regulatory action, reputational damage, loss of investors and, ultimately, the loss of business.”
Smith says that the risk-based approach to managing OH&S contained in ISO 45001 advocates taking a preventative angle to OH&S in order to identify what activities and processes could harm those working on behalf of the organization and others (i.e. visitors, members of the public, etc.) and to meet any legal compliance requirements. He adds that identifying the hazards at work is a prerequisite to eliminating or minimizing those that pose a significant risk.
The ongoing assessment of risks and opportunities is also a common element in ISO 9001 (quality management) and ISO 14001 (environmental management), which use a similar risk-based framework and the Plan-Do-Check-Act model. Effective application of these measures should address concerns that can lead to long-term health issues and absence from work, as well as those that give rise to accidents, says Smith. They are among the reasons why ISO 45001 is considered a significant improvement on OHSAS 18001, which will be replaced by the new ISO standard during a three-year migration period.
A company culture
Of course, any conversation on OH&S has to include the companies. Because when an employee is injured, companies lose out on that person’s experience and knowledge, as well as their labour of course. Multiply this out over several hundred (or thousand) employees and the costs can become quite severe.
Ideally, every work setting would enhance your health and life. Many companies can and do work towards this goal, including the LEGO Group, a children’s toy manufacturer based in Denmark. With 16,836 employees (2016 LEGO Annual Report), the company recognizes the importance and value in keeping its employees healthy and safe, and will soon be making the transition to ISO 45001.
LEGO’s Senior Integrated Management System Manager, Sofka Ane Brændgaard, explains: “We want to achieve certification to ISO 45001 because especially the new chapters regarding leadership commitment and defining the interested parties match perfectly with our company and our approach to all our stakeholders. We have already implemented this into our management reviews.” She asserts that LEGO will use ISO 45001 the same way it uses all other standards: “We see ISO standards as a tool for us to focus on processes and to bring the right value for our customers and consumers.”
As part of its OH&S, the company engages employees in many ways, including the creation of a proactive safety committee that raises awareness of issues such as ergonomics hazards and an internal blog where employees report safety risks, with improvements made in response to their reports and suggestions.
“Being certified according to ISO 45001 will demonstrate that we take the health and safety of our employees, and all those working on behalf of LEGO Group, seriously, and this is fully in line with our LEGO Brand Framework and our Partner, People & Planet promises,” Brændgaard said. “We are a low-risk company and we do not compromise with health and safety, and ISO 45001 is one of the tools we will use to ensure the best possible work conditions.”
ISO 45001 adopts a high-level structure (Annex SL), meaning that it has the same structure as other ISO management system standards such as ISO 9001 and ISO 14001. This will make it easier for organizations, if they so wish, to integrate their related systems, either partially or fully, with each other—so, for example, quality, environment or security with health and safety. This can offer greater efficiency by using common processes.
“For us it will be a significant improvement working with three standards with the same high-level structure and the same approach,” explains Brændgaard. “To be certified according to all three standards makes it easier for us, because we basically have an integrated management system where we do not distinguish between the standards; and the quality, environment, and health and safety processes are all merged into our business processes,” she says.
Best in class
Imagine dedicating countless years to honing your professional skills and abilities, only to have all that work crumble down like an avalanche. That’s what having an injury is like for most workplace accidents.
Significantly reducing the incidence of injuries and occupational diseases is not that simple, however. It can be an arduous task and it will not happen overnight, but progress is certainly feasible. Enthusiasts of ISO 45001 believe organizations that implement the standard will be better positioned to control risks related to OH&S issues, improve their overall safety performance, and provide solid evidence to buyers and consumers of their commitment to the health and safety of their employees.
Building OH&S in the current global environment is an opportunity, not a burden. Companies taking it seriously communicate to workers and the community that their time and well-being is valued, and are secured from loss of lives, property and even their entire business.
No doubt there will be more accidents in the future, but together we can succeed in turning the tide on the epidemic. Smith believes that ISO 45001 should make us all feel more reassured about our health and well-being in the workplace. “The new ISO 45001 should give increased credibility to the management of OH&S,” he says. “Wide adoption of the standard should reduce the horror stories in the media of poor OH&S management leading to the loss of life, injury and large-scale disasters.” Soon, by taking sensible precautions and implementing ISO 45001, we can all breathe a little easier at work.
This article first appeared on the ISO website and is published here with permission. Please visit the ISO Website www.iso.org for more information.