Safety management systems

June 1, 2005
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The latest, and some would say greatest, “new” approach to ensuring successful safety performance might come in the concept of safety management systems and associated standards.

As an example, the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series — OHSAS 18001 — has been developed in response to demand for a recognizable occupational health and safety management system standard against which management systems can be assessed and certified.

OHSAS 18001 standards are said to be practical tools for the safety professional who is not satisfied with mere compliance with legislation. Implementing an OHSAS 18001 system supposedly drives you to take a hard look at all areas where your business has health and safety risks. The emphasis is placed on being proactive and preventive by identifying hazards and evaluating and controlling work-related risks. OHSAS 18001 can be used by organizations of all sizes regardless of the nature of their activities.

Another safety management system — ILO-OSH 2001 guidelines for safety management systems — provides a unique international model, compatible with other management system standards and guides. It is not legally binding and not intended to replace national laws, regulations and accepted standards. The ILO guidelines encourage integrating OSH management systems with other management systems and state that OSH should be an integral part of business management.

On November 30, 2004, Ireland became the first EU country to formally recognize the ILO guidelines on occupational safety and health management systems (ILO-OSH 2001).

The American way

While OHSAS 18001 and ILO guidelines are currently a reality, both Canada and the United States have embarked upon a mission to develop their own safety systems standards. In Canada, the CSA Z1000 draft standard is well underway, while in the United States, the ANSI Z.10 is also in full draft process.

But who needs another safety standard, and why at this time?

James Grieger, associate director of occupational health & safety for Cornell University, explains: “Many organizations have adopted management systems approaches to improve performance in quality, the environment and more recently occupational health and safety. These organizations have either developed their own standards or have chosen to conform to an international standard.”

Some of the rationale for the U.S. standard includes:

  • Harmonization would help U.S. businesses;
  • Improve protection of worker health and safety in a cost-effective manner;
  • Help to integrate quality, environmental and health and safety systems;
  • Enhance U.S. influence internationally;
  • Benefit all sizes and types of organizations and be truly a product of consensus.

So will the American ANSI Z.10 standard have any features that are uniquely American?

Grieger says, “One area that might be considered uniquely American is the strong emphasis on management leadership and employee involvement. Most health and safety professionals would agree those areas are considered very important in the success of an overall health and safety program. The draft standard was written to provide general criteria rather than specific requirements to allow for maximum flexibility for organizations of all sizes. We particularly emphasized that our draft standard needed to be helpful to the small and mid-size organizations and needed to be in simple language that was easily understood.”

“I believe U.S. health and safety professionals will find our draft standard very easy to use,” continues Grieger.

“If they already are working within a management system, this standard will be very compatible and easy to conform to if they decide to do so. Our voluntary standard may provide them with opportunities for improvement of their existing system.

“If they are not using a management systems approach but want to develop and implement one, I believe the standard provides a good reference and guide to establish one.”

Freedom of choice

Will safety management standards be accepted by U.S. safety pros, say to the degree many pros have embraced behavior-based safety in the past 10-15 years?

Says Grieger, “I see our standard as an effective tool for continual improvement of health and safety performance for those who choose to use it. We recognize there are many effective health and safety programs that do not use a management systems approach.

“Those who have existing effective management systems will probably continue to use them and may wish to look at our draft standard and see if there are opportunities for improvement.

“Although this standard (ANSI Z.10) can be helpful to reduce risks and improve health and safety performance, it is up to each organization to determine what type of management system works best for them.”

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