23rd April

ISO 45001:2018 - Preparing for the new management system regime

Changing work patterns and attendant hazards initiated the need for a systematic approach to the management of occupational health and safety, thus, giving birth to what we now refer to as a health and safety management system. However, despite this, statistics from the International Labour Organisation have shown that thousands of fatalities are continually being recorded due to work-related accidents or as a result of diseases that became chronic owing to prolonged exposures to unsafe conditions at work. Of course, these resulting unfortunate occurrences could have been avoidable if there were a generally acceptable health and safety standard, sound regulation and an effective participation across-board of every worker in an organization. The case for a generally acceptable and implementable management system is strong, however, the cost of not keying-in is staggering.

It was as a result of these burdens that standards writers (OH&S experts) from all over the world (over 70 countries), came together to provide a single and clear framework for a safer work environment for all, irrespective of geographical location or industry. Consequently, from March 2018, the world's first standard for occupational health and safety (ISO 45001), came into being. This means that all organisations in the business world with a physical workspace/ workplace, wishing to improve their safety and wellbeing records, will be affected by the new standards. As a minimum, many organisations which were previously certified to the former reference for workplace safety (OHSAS 18001), will need to have their documentation and procedures updated, then re-certified. This OHSAS 18001 standard is expected to be gradually phased out as the new one is phased in within the next three years.

Is this a completely new system? Not exactly, as it is designed to compatibly integrate with other ISO management systems such the ISO 9001 (quality management) and ISO 14001 (environmental management), which have been around for some time now. This presents the opportunity of having just one management system which can seamlessly fit into the whole business process-encompassing most areas of the organisations focus-rather than being totally independent as the case was. The newly published standard sets out a new regime, making far-reaching changes to the previous. It casts the spotlight on how organisations interact with their business environment taking a risk/opportunity-based approach which was only partly the case with the OHSAS 18001. In this new guidance document, references to “preventive action” was removed, as it elaborated on the expectation of organisations to deal with risks by demonstrating that they have established, analysed and where necessary, taken action to address any risks and opportunities that may have the capacity to either positively or negatively affect the effectiveness of the management system. For example, a hazardous work process and environment provide the opportunity to adapt both the process and work environment to workers’ peculiarity, thus by eliminating hazards and reducing risks, occupational health and safety performance will improve. In doing this, the principle of “hierarchy of control” must be employed.

Other key changes under the new system are in the way the management of health and safety is perceived. It is now expected to be incorporated organisation-wide and not just as a “stand-alone” arrangement. The ISO 45001 focuses more on the “process” (activity) while the previous OHSAS 18001 is based on “procedure”. It accommodates the views of all internal and external stakeholders-“those individuals or organisations that can affect, be affected by or perceive themselves to be affected by the organisation’s decisions or activities”-such as, owners, unions, community, regulators, but the previous OHSAS 18001 does not. In addition, it employs the Plan-Do-Check-Act model which ensures top management demonstrate commitment by taking full ownership of the system, taking the lead in promoting a culture of safety at work, as well as shielding workers from retaliation after they might have reported an incident, thereby recognising the value of consultation and worker (“Worker” is here defined as all employees either on or offsite, whether part-time, full-time, contractors or outsourced personnel) involvement in entrenching a safe culture. Therefore, rather than having a single management representative champion the cause of occupational health and safety, it is expected that all managers will have to demonstrate their commitment to occupational health and safety in the organisation.

The implication it bears on the Nigerian workspace is that it behoves leaders and subordinates in organisations, take full advantage of the guidance it offers by incorporating its recommendations in their occupational health and safety management system, and even going further to obtain the ISO 45001 certification. Although certification might be arguably viewed as a mere additional endorsement of full compliance with the standard, it goes further to demonstrate that such organisations have put the necessary arrangements in place, and are also committed to setting the bar, high for the well-being and safety of its workforce and workplace respectively. It is crucial to state that these implications are bound to provide some competitive advantage to certified organisations, especially when bidding opportunities arise and prospective clients set it as a requirement for doing business, thus, improving the organisation’s outlook as it builds customers’ confidence. Effectively implementing the recommendations contained within the ISO 45001 presents enormous benefits to the organisation. Since the management system provides for a continuous improvement in areas where operation might be lacking in efficiency, it will stimulate positive growth both in terms of safety and productivity without a trade-off of one for the other.

Furthermore, it will help organisations prioritise plans, controls and the evaluation of the measures put in place to protect people from harm by a well written and documented policy framework. This will provide for a proper allocation of resources such as money, time, expertise, as well as better utilization of the same whether in the day to day running of the organisation or towards planning for emergencies. Also, it goes without saying that it will enable organisations to comply with relevant local legislation, fulfil legal requirements and industry best practice. It is important to note that an organisation is at liberty to define the limits of its own occupational health and safety management system. Whether it decides to develop one for the entire organisation or for some sections, it is okay as long as the management of that section has the requisite authorisation and resources to provide the needed support.

In addition, a crucial point is a challenge internal auditors are likely to face due to the requirements the system places on organisations’ leadership. Here, the need for auditors to challenge top management on their commitment to occupational health and safety, particularly in departments such as finance and procurement, which are not directly under operations, might be daunting.

Moreover, as a note of caution, organisations should be prepared to deal with the challenge of the unpredictability of human behaviour as hindrances to change when too much emphasis is placed on the documentation alone with little or no attention on monitoring behaviour and compliance of all and sundry. As with every changing process in life, migrating to the new ISO 45001 will also bring with it its own challenges, but with adequate planning, proper organisation and commitment, “workers” and all stakeholders are poised to reap the fruits of an improved occupational health and safety management system.

In conclusion, it is important to note that the new ISO 45001 management system standard is not intended to be a legally binding guidance document, rather, it is intended to be used as a management tool which organisations-irrespective of size-, can make voluntary use of.

Without a doubt, the task of “completely eliminating” accidents from all spheres of life can only become a reality when we all join hands together to turn the table on the existing negative trends.

To learn more about the new ISO occupational health and safety management system standard, join us at the ISO 45001:2018 Workshop on Saturday, April 14,2018


Time: 1pm -3pm, For seat reservation, please call +2349093174739.

Written By:

Godson Okpidu GradIOSH

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