Efficient systems for managing occupational health and safety (OHS) demonstrably decrease sickness leaves, reduce staff turnover and strengthen employee satisfaction. Existing approaches are usually country-specific and, therefore, highly different. An ISO committee is in the process of developing an International Standard on this topic.
The International Standard ISO 45001 "Occupational health and safety management system" will lay down requirements for occupational health and safety management systems and is intended to help organizations promote the health of their employees and ensure their safety.
The competent committee is made up of more than 80 experts from almost 50 nations. "The heterogeneous membership of the committee highlights the great differences between approaches to this subject used all over the world," reports Mag.a Barbara Libowitzky of the Austrian Workers' Compensation Board (AUVA). The expert specialized in the prevention of accidents and occupational diseases heads the Austrian delegation in the ISO committee.
While employees and employers were intensively involved in the development of OHS management systems in Austria, Canada and in the US, auditing and standardization experts mainly worked on this subject in numerous other countries. Moreover, some delegates participating in the standardization process hold the view that employee health promotion is not a matter of interest to employers.
The ISO committee now has the task to reconcile diverging interests and different approaches. The basis of the proposal submitted to ISO by the British Standards Institution (BSI) was the British standard OHSAS 18001. To make sure that ISO 45001 can be easily integrated into existing management systems, it will be brought in line with the ISO high-level structure that is used for all ISO management system standards.
Accordingly, the new standard also requires that the aspects of occupational health and safety be integrated into the organization's high-level management system and all related activities be controlled by top management.
Checking for necessary adjustments
What does the new standard mean for domestic enterprises? Up to now, three different systems have been used in Austria:
- the Safety Certificate Contractors procedure developed in the Netherlands,
- the British OHSAS standard, and
- the occupational health and safety management system of AUVA.
Upon the publication of the new standard, the holders of relevant certificates will have to decide whether they want to switch to the ISO standard or use references. "Companies already using an occupational health and safety management system that may even be certified should contact their provider or certifying body to clarify whether there is a table of equivalences to ISO 45001," recommends AUVA expert Libowitzky.
Publication planned for 2016
ISO 45001 is currently available as a committee draft and, according to the schedule, is to be adopted and published by the end of 2016. Apart from the benefits of using a standard-compliant OHS management system, there are several further convincing arguments in favour of it: it allows both international corporations and small enterprises to quickly get an overview of legal bases and their evaluations and permits and, as a result, they can faster adjust to changes in legislation.
Last but not least, the commitment to such a system boosts the corporate image from the perspective of potential new employees.
ISO 45001/CD Occupational health and safety management systems - Requirements with guidance for use