ISO 45001:2018: Some Observations

The history

This standard has been several years in development, and reaching agreement on content hasn’t been easy, but finally, in March 2018, we have our first OHSMS ISO standard. Previous drafts have all been kicked back for a number of reasons. It has proven difficult, given the very significant variation in the level of national OH&S legislation worldwide, to develop an OHSMS standard that is robust and progressive and yet still attainable for organisations that operate in the developing world.

Some observations

ISO 45001 replaces OHSAS 18001 as the certifiable management system standard of choice within accredited third party certification processes. OHSAS 18001 registered organisations have three years from now (March 2018) to manage their transition to ISO 45001. I was intrigued to see BSI hailing their first set of ISO 45001 certifications this week, literally TWO DAYS after ISO 45001 was issued. Generally it takes certification bodies a few weeks to develop their own systems to certify to a new standard and also upskill their auditors in the new standard, and gain UKAS accreditation, so it was a bit odd. I assume that over the past few weeks a pilot program has been running. My guess is that those certification bodies not part of the pilot will take some time to have their internal verification processes and competences approved by their Accreditation Body, and won’t be offering accredited certification until the summer.

The ISO 45001 standard itself adopts the Annex SL clause structure around which ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 are already based. That means the PDCA sequenced clause 4-10 framework. As OHSAS 18001 was already PDCA sequenced, this is not a major uplift. There are a few issues that organisations will need to look closely at and, for me, at first sight at least, the most significant relates to Top Management involvement in the OHSMS. There is an interesting and significant addition – Worker Participation.

Communication and consultation has always formed part of OHSAS 18001 so, on the face of it, there’s no big change, but the positioning of the requirement within Section 5, and also the addition of some quite specific elements, make it potentially a bit of a game changer (if the certification bodies choose to apply it as written, obviously, which they may not). It is now the specific responsibility of TOP MANAGEMENT to ENABLE worker participation, and that enabling function specifically includes REMOVING BARRIERS TO PARTICIPATION.

Barriers to Participation?

So what are barriers to participation? Well, there are certain structural matters that might make it difficult for workers to participate. They may work remotely for instance, without regular access to the organisation’s communication systems. They may not have high levels of literacy and they may not speak the same language as the one used by the management system. Issues like this will require special measures and processes to enable effective participation. Then there are more tricky cultural issues. The organisation may have an oppressive blame culture for instance. A worker might not see it as a good idea to raise a concern if the first thing that happens is a spotlight being turned on him or her. Blame cultures are unfortunately common, and personally I see it as a very progressive step that an OHSMS standard has chosen to grasp the nettle. It will be very interesting to see how well this gets enforced. It will be a great shame if it gets watered down or ignored.

A word on our training

At the time of writing (16/03/18) our revised Lead Auditor Course is with the IRCA for review. We are hoping to have it approved and running from mid-April. The transition module will be along a couple of months later.

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