Bringing the Safety World Together With ISO 45001

Bringing the Safety World Together With ISO 45001

In March 2018, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published ISO 45001: Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems – Requirements with Guidance for Use, the world’s first International Standard addressing workplace health and safety. This standard replaced OHSAS 18001, which was developed in 1999 as a framework to help organizations align workplace health and safety with internationally recognized best practices.

While OHSAS 18001 intended to increase general occupational health and safety (OHS) awareness, ISO 45001 has brought about even more effective management systems that can be created and adjusted to suit the needs of any size company in any industry.

While adherence to ISO 45001 is not mandatory, organizations can receive third-party certification, which validates that the organization has a compliant OHS management system in place.

How Occupational Health and Safety is Changing

Prevention vs. Detection
When you think of occupational health and safety you likely think of how an employee recognizes hazards and responds to workplace accidents. However, the field has evolved to become more about prevention and hazard identification.

Occupational health and safety experts often focus on educating employees and identifying potential issues rather than on what is essentially damage control. The hope is that taking a prevention-based approach and trying to stop an accident from happening in the first place will help companies save the time and money that comes along with mitigating the effects of workplace accidents.

Acknowledging mental health needs

For years, occupational health and safety has addressed the potential physical risks within various working environments. Mental health concerns have only recently become more acknowledged by employers, however, a general stigmatization of mental illnesses — from anxiety and depression to more severe conditions — remains in most workplaces.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults suffer from some type of mental illness. Poor mental health can negatively affect employee productivity, performance, and even physical capability, leading to more workplace accidents. More companies now incorporate mental health programs into their overall occupational health and safety programs, which not only provides support for struggling workers, but also shows that you, as an employer, care about employee wellbeing.

More safety professionals

While many people entering the workforce or choosing a career path may not immediately consider occupational health and safety, employers recognize these positions’ importance. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a positive job outlook for the industry over the next decade.

In 2022, the median pay for the occupational health and safety field was $75,240 while the median pay across all industries was just over $46,300. Additionally, the projected national employment growth rate from 2022-2032 is currently 3%. During that same time, employment of occupational health and safety specialists is expected to grow 13%.

Advancements in personal protective equipment

Just as we have seen advancements in watches, fitness trackers, and numerous other forms of smart wearable technology, smart personal protective equipment (PPE) has come onto the scene to help prevent injuries, reduce costs, and improve worker productivity.

From things as simple as improved GPS trackers to helmets and outerwear that can monitor an employee’s vital signs, smart PPE provides real-time stats that could help employers identify accidents or unsafe conditions as soon as they occur.

Increased focus on retraining

You have no doubt heard the phrase “practice makes perfect” throughout the course of your life. There is a reason this mantra is often repeated — it’s true! In fact, as early as 1885, research was being conducted to show how repetition helps with the retention of information. Nowadays the phrase has been replaced with “practice makes progress” and means the same thing; repetition is key.

The same concept naturally applies to safety training. Repeating training increases the likelihood of retaining the information, making for a more effective employee. More companies implement annual retraining programs to refresh employee safety skills, ensuring better awareness and reducing the number of incidents. In many cases, it’s included in OSHA regulations to retrain either at regular intervals (annual, every three years) or when certain conditions occur (new hazard, job duties change, worker demonstrates need, etc.).

How ISO 45001 is Improving Safety Standards

Since 1999, OHSAS 18001 had been internationally recognized, having been created by the British Standards Institution, the world’s first national standard body and an instrumental part of the formation of ISO.

ISO 45001 now serves as its replacement, drawing from OHSAS 18001 but bringing even more effective management systems to organizations around the world. There are many key differences between ISO 45001 and OHSAS 18001 that those familiar with the previous standard must pay attention to. These include:

Commitment from management

As with any organizational plan, fostering a culture of safety needs to start with leadership. Implementing a top-down commitment to safety makes it more likely that lower-level employees will embrace any changes made.

Under OHSAS 18001, management positions took more of a “backseat” approach, primarily involving themselves only in oversight and employee review. With the implementation of ISO 45001, employees at all levels are now responsible for taking an active, engaged role in safety.

A proactive vs. reactive approach

As previously mentioned, much of occupational health and safety in the past focused on recognizing potential hazards and what to do when accidents occur. However, employers are realizing the benefits of identifying hazards and taking preventive action ahead of time.

As the chairman of the committee that developed ISO 45001, David Smith summarized the standard’s proactive approach by saying, “Businesses need to ensure they manage all their risks to survive and thrive. OHS is a key aspect, which every business has to manage proactively.”

Process-based clauses

One of the main goals of ISO 45001 is providing organizations the freedom to create and implement an occupational health and safety program that best suits their needs. Therefore, the focus is less on the specific procedures implemented by a company and more on the processes used by each company.

While specific procedural requirements are not included in ISO 45001, this standard does still require organizations to document procedures in an effective way. They are simply given much more freedom in the specifics of doing so.

Framework structure

Perhaps one of the biggest differences is in the structure of the newest standard. Because OHSAS 18001 was not an official ISO standard, the management system platform was not required to match existing ISO standards.

ISO 45001 adopted Annex SL, meaning this standard shares its structure, terms, and definitions with other international standards such as the ISO 9000 series and the ISO 14000 series. If you previously used these standards, you can simply fill in the gaps to fully implement ISO 45001. If your organization is new to Annex SL, it will take a bit more time and understanding to fully grasp all the requirements.

Dynamic clauses

When creating a safety program, the details of your program may look very different from others’ due to the specific potential hazards existing in your industry. For instance, a university’s safety program will likely differ greatly from that of a construction company. Because of this, a strict and rigid set of standards does not make sense.

ISO 45001 does not outline specific criteria for occupational health and safety performance and, in fact, does not even need to be used in its entirety. Since every clause of ISO 45001 is dynamic and organizations can implement all or part of the standard, safety programs become more practically applicable. This flexibility makes it easier to design — and implement — appropriate and effective health and safety programs.

As the unofficial standard for two decades, there were certainly some aspects of OHSAS 18001 that were successful and did remain in the creation of ISO 45001. The overall intent of creating a framework for managing the prevention of employee injuries, illnesses, and fatalities is the same, as is the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle.

Legal requirements, awareness and competency requirements, monitoring, improvement objectives, and needed resources also all remain similar to OHSAS 18001.

Getting Started with ISO 45001

Now that we have introduced you to some of the details surrounding ISO 45001, you need to understand how it can help you and some of the options you have regarding implementation.

How it can help your company

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates 2.3 million fatalities occur each year from work-related accidents, injuries, and diseases, averaging out to more than 6,300 per day. Implementing an effective occupational health and safety management system promotes worker safety and sets forth guidance for continual improvement.

When workers are healthy, absenteeism and work-related stress decreases, allowing worker productivity to improve. Healthier and safer workers can also lead to reduced insurance premiums, helping protect your bottom line.

From an outsider’s perspective, seeing that your company uses the most up to date occupational health and safety standards may set you apart from competitors, boosting your reputation within your industry. Additionally, your employees know you have their best interests in mind, helping retention and potentially improving recruitment.

How to implement ISO 45001

When choosing any new system, you want the transition process to be as painless as possible. The American Society of Safety Professionals created a simple guide to ISO 45001, which can help you with implementation regardless of which system you are currently using.

The five steps for implementing ISO 45001 are:

  1. Understanding the requirements
  2. Examining your current safety management system
  3. Discussing with all stakeholders
  4. Aligning standards with business goals
  5. Developing or improving your safety management system

Remember, if you already use the Annex SL framework, you will simply need to fill in any gaps for ISO 45001. If you are not using Annex SL, ISO 45001 implementation will be more difficult and time consuming.

How to receive ISO 45001 training

Just like ISO 45001 certification is optional, you are not required to take any sort of training courses to make the switch. However, because the standard does not read like a step-by-step guide, you may want to consider some type of training to make implementation easier, if for no other reason.

There are many types of ISO 45001 training available, depending on what you are looking to achieve. From basic awareness or internal auditing to conversion auditing and even Annex SL training, taking some level of 45001 training may be beneficial for your organization.

Wrapping up ISO 45001

Hopefully, you have now gained a better understanding of ISO 45001, some of its major changes from OHSAS 18001, and how you and your company could benefit from implementing this International Standard. Though not a requirement for any organization, ISO 45001 is considered the gold standard for health and safety programs.

As more companies seek to establish a culture of safety within their facilities, EHS professionals are discovering the power of integration to help ensure all aspects of their safety programs are serving all employees throughout the organization. From chemical approval workflows and inventory management to comprehensive safety data sheet (SDS) management and OSHA, DOT, and EPA compliance safety training, HSI brings it all together in one streamlined platform.

Safety is everyone’s responsibility. Let HSI help you help your team as you work toward an incident-free workplace.

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