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The safety world receives the ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety Management System

July 10, 2014
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globalISO 45001 is the number given to ISO’s effort to create a standard for an occupational safety and health management system. This project is well underway, but before the status update, let me begin with some background on occupational safety and health management systems.

Management systems come in many forms, but all have the purpose of providing an organized approach to continual improvement. The ISO 9000 series of standards is directed at management systems for ensuring quality, while the ISO 14000 series of standards deals with environmental improvement. The ISO standards tend to be highly prescriptive and easily auditable. Examples of non-ISO safety and health management systems include the OSHA’s VPP program, California’s injury and illness prevention program, as well as the ANSI Z10 and OHSAS 18001 standards.

ISO has had opportunities to develop a safety and health management system in the past, but there was not enough support among member countries to go forward. In the absence of an ISO standard, the registrars who audit standards got together to develop the OHSAS 18001 standard. More recently in the U.S., ANSI decided to develop its own standard, ANSI Z10.

The new ISO standard will be called ISO 45001. ISO is an international standards organization with member countries from around the world. Representatives from 27 countries form the ISO 45001 project committee (ISO PC 283) and are on track to meet a 2016 deadline to publish a standard. ANSI is the official US voting body at ISO and has a three-member U.S. delegation. The U.S. delegation is assisted by a technical advisory group (TAG) that is under the secretariat of ASSE. Several TAG members are also on the ANSI Z10 standard committee and that standard forms the basis for many of the U.S. positions.

The timeline for the project is as follows:

• November 2014 – PC meeting to develop a draft international standard (DIS)

• November 2015 – PC meeting to develop final draft international standard (FDIS)

• October 2016 – publish ISO 45001

The ISO standards process tends to be fairly bureaucratic and target focused. Deadlines need to be met even if the standard is not quite ready. The assumption is that problems can be fixed at the next stage or next revision.

There are several key issues that remain to be resolved between the member country delegations. One is the definition of worker and workplace (how do temporary and contract employees fit in?). One question that was recently settled was whether to call the standard an occupational health and safety management system or an occupational safety and health management system. The U.S. delegation supported “safety and health” but “health and safety” won out, largely with the support of European countries, each of which has one vote. Together the EU countries can easily outvote the U.S. which also has one vote.

Perhaps the most fundamental debate is a philosophical difference about the scope (should the standard focus on hazard reduction or management system elements?). The OHSAS 18001 group would like to focus on hazard reduction, mainly because it is easier to audit. The ANSI Z10 group (mostly U.S.) would like to focus on hazard control and management system elements, such as management support and employee involvement.

The difference is important. A company I worked for had several operations that underwent the OHSAS 18001 process. There was a diesel engine manufacturing plant in Brazil that was not OHSAS 18001 certified, but had excellent safety performance. The company later purchased another diesel engine plant in Brazil that was OHSAS 18001 certified but performed less well on audits, performance metrics and culture. Audits covered both hazard control and management system elements and both aspects were weak at the certified plant. Management looked at the safety culture and performance at the two operations and recognized clear differences. They decided to drop the certification and focus on improving the culture at the second plant. Only after that transformation was well underway did they go back for the OHSAS 18001 certification at both operations.

It was evident that the hazard control processes and programs covered by OHSAS 18001 are good on paper but have management systems and safety culture blind spots. ANSI Z10 does address both hazard control and management system elements. It remains to be seen whether ISO 45001 will be limited to easily auditable aspects (e.g. hazard identification, written programs), or will also address identification and improvement of weaknesses in the management system.

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