The last few weeks I have been focused on the difficult task of drafting and analyzing comments on the draft ISO 14001 and ISO 45001 standards. 

This has caused me to focus on the issue of making commitments.

Central to all of the ISO management system standards is the requirement to establish a policy.  This policy is to serve as the framework for establishing, implementing and maintaining the organization’s management system. A policy sets out guiding principles regarding the intentions of an organization related to the achievement of specific outcomes.

A key part of a policy is the inclusion of commitments. For example, the ISO 14001:2004 standard requires that a commitment be made to prevention of pollution. The OHSAS 18001 standard requires that a commitment be made to prevention of injury and ill health. Both requirements include a commitment to compliance.

What is not necessarily clear is what “making a commitment” means. Does it mean –

  • Including “magic words” in a written policy signed by someone in senior management?
  • Developing plans to achieve the policy commitments – someday?
  • Ensuring that everyone in the organization knows the commitments?
  • Establishing processes to achieve the commitments?
  • Being accountable for achieving the commitments?

Different organizations and third-party registrars have interpreted the requirement “to make a commitment” differently.

It struck me that this is also an issue in the development and use of professional Codes of Ethics.

Statements in Codes of Ethics, like those in policy statements, are often commitments.

Like policy commitments, the commitments set out in Codes of Ethics are often interpreted differently by different people.  Some statements are viewed to be aspirational – a goal to strive for but not necessarily always achieve.  In fact, some Codes of Ethics explicitly state that they are intended to be viewed as aspirational.  Other times, statements in a Code of Ethics are intended to be requirements that must be met. In these instances, the Code of Ethics is a code of conduct that is not to be violated.

The challenge can be in deciding which is which.

Source: The Ethics in Focus newsletter www.ohsethics.com11.13.2014

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