The ISO 45001 occupational health and safety standard is due to be published in October, unless the meeting in Canada in June determines otherwise. I conducted a survey between February and April 2016 to determine the level of understanding of the new standard and the problems organizations can foresee in trying to implement it.

The survey was completed by more than 450 LinkedIn health and safety practitioner members worldwide.

Respondents were asked their country of origin, size of organization, their understanding of the key statements in the standard, its relevance to their organization, their current level of implementation of OHSAS 18001 and their intention to adopt it based on the draft standard.

A global audience

The survey was completed by a global audience: 17% UK, 11% USA, 11% Australia, 6% Canada, 4% India, 4% South Africa, the balance of 47% covering responses from a further 64 countries.  The size of organization, on an employee basis, covered a spread of: 35% < 100, 20% 100 - 500, 14% 500 - 1000, 13% 1000 - 3500, 4% 3500 - 5000 and 15% > 5000. The country of origin referred to the base for their head office. 

Many who completed the survey are global organizations with divisions in many countries.  A good number are Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies.  When assessing the effect, or footprint, of the standard, these organizations will be responsible for significant gearing up through their supply chain and stakeholders

Widespread acceptance

At present 52 percent of these organizations use OHSAS 18001. Will they adapt 45001 for their organization? Sixty-nine percent say yes, six percent are opposed, and 25 percent undecided.  A significantly large number of respondents intend to implement the new standard.  It’s unlikely existing 18001-compliant organizations will not migrate. OHSAS 18001 will be withdrawn when 45001 is introduced; there will be a three-year window to transit.  

How much direct knowledge of ISO 45001 exists? This was tested by asking the understanding of key phrases quantified by a sliding scale of 5 to 1 (where 5 was definite understanding and 1 represented no understanding) the results were as follows:

• Top management commitment: 5 - 63%, 4 - 30%, 3 - 5%, 2 - 2%, 1 - 0%.

• Context of the organization: 5 - 39%, 4 - 34%, 3 - 18%, 2 - 8%, 1 - 1%

• Risk-based approach: 5 -55%, 4 - 30%, 3 - 12%, 2 - 2%, 1 -1%

• Worker involvement: 5 - 60%, 4 - 27%, 3- 8%, 2 - 3%,  1- 2%

Results indicate the need for the standard to be explicit in its requirements for these important clauses, and less vague in its general directives, so all organizations have a clear defined standard for compliance.

Relevance to small operations

How relevant is ISO 45001 for organizations with less than 50 employees? This was tested on a sliding scale of 5 to 1 (5 very relevant, 1 not at all relevant) with these results: 5 - 28%, 4 - 26%, 3 - 29%,  2 -12%, 1 -5%.  This will surprise some observers who consider these integrated management standards relevant only to larger businesses. The drafting committee has always tried to simplify the terms and requirements to make them more understandable and accessible to smaller entities.  Smaller organizations will rely on outside expertise. Smaller concerns will make use of software, but it remains to be seen what auditors will make of that approach. They will need clear simple guidance. I spent a lot of time in HSE trying to do this and it is not easy.

18001’s natural successor

It appears that 45001 holds great appeal for international organizations -- not only because ISO has more universal appeal than national standards, but also because this standard is the natural successor to what many see as an enhancement of 18001 (which has more than 90,000 organizations working to its requirements).

 Also, it is an integrated management standard, so those already working to ISO 9001 and 14001 should already have systems in place to achieve 45001 without further significant expenditure.  This standard transcends regional boundaries, which is important to the increasing globalized nature of organizations.  Plus there is a growing acceptance that the costs of compliance are less than the costs of failures.  Those costs are not just financial but also reputational, ethical, social and moral. One only needs to remember Deepwater Horizon to understand these issues.

In line with changes of philosophy and policies of governments, however reluctantly in the face of international pressure, there is a change of attitudes to workers’ rights, management responsibility and corporate ethics. Perhaps  45001 has arrived at a point in time when it is seen as meaningful, relevant,  achievable and necessary.