Australian businesses may need to transition to the new OHS standard ISO45001

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With Australia’s new Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) standard ISO45001 on the horizon, Heather Bienefelt from Integrated Consulting Solutions (ICS) returns to our blog to outline the key changes and discuss the standard’s importance for Australian businesses.
Heather Bienefelt
Heather Bienefelt

In 2015, two of the most implemented ISO standards (ISO9001 and ISO14001) were updated to significantly new and uniform versions. In 2016, OHS standards are undergoing the same transformation. With this change, OHSAS18001 (and likely AS4801) safety management systems will need to be certified to a new Standard: ISO45001.

Over 70 countries have been involved in the creation of ISO45001, which has been approved as a draft international standard and is expected to be published sometime around June 2017, with a three-year transition period to follow.

If your organisation is currently certified to AS4801 or OHSAS18001, you can maintain that certification throughout the transition period but be prepared for the need to migrate to ISO45001 to remain certified once the timeframes have been finalised. You can read more about how to transition on our webpage.

Why a new standard and not just a new revision?

Apart from integrating much more smoothly with all the other “new Annex SL format” ISO standards, ISO45001 has specifically been created with the aim to set new standards for worker and workplace safety.

It attempts to transcend the current way organisations understand and manage their OHS requirements and approaches to best practice. The focus has shifted from safety in the immediate workplace, to a more global view, requiring organisations to consider the wider implications for their communities and society as a whole. It is a completely different approach to risk and to the involvement of stakeholders than in the previous standards, and it means that for ISO45001 certified organisations, safety is now everyone’s responsibility, not just the domain of the OH&S rep and Worksafe.

What are the main changes between AS4801/ OHSAS18001 and the new ISO45001?

We’ve already mentioned the change of focus, from local to global, and there are a number of other changes that oganisations will need to make.

Approach to risk: One of the most important (and arguably beneficial) changes is in the approach to risk. Where an OHSAS18001 safety management system includes hazard identification, ISO45001 looks at improvement, risk evaluation and opportunity. In effect, the focus moves from spotting and handling workplace hazards to foresight, looking for opportunities to improve safety and manage risk even when no current hazard has been identified. It’s a move to a preventative approach rather than a reactive one.

Stakeholder expectations: The other key difference between the two standards is the new approach to understanding and responding to the needs and expectations of stakeholders. Stakeholders can be anyone involved with the work or impacted by it, so that covers the broad spectrum of employees, suppliers, contractors and the community. This moves the organisation away from the compliance for its own sake and towards consideration of who is implicated by decisions around safety.

Worker participation: The standard requires the participation of workers in the development, implementation and maintenance of the organisation’s safety management system. It acknowledges that the people doing the job are the people with the best understanding of the possible dangers in the system, and the best people to come up with an alternative.

Planning specifics: This standard isn’t prescriptive, because no one system will suit every organisation’s needs. Each organisation is to develop its own OH&S management system, specific to meeting its own needs in preventing workplace injury. However, ISO45001 does lay down guidelines for such things as hazard identification and risk, so each organisation is alerted to those issues. There is also a requirement, as there is with the other new revisions of ISO9001 and 14001, that organisations be able to justify the approach they have taken based on an understanding of risk and in alignment with the strategic direction and objectives that have been set. Management will need to be able to talk to their thinking around these decisions and to show evidence of measurable results against criteria.

Outsourcing: ISO45001 also places emphasis on the increasing trend to outsource work, and the need to put controls in place both for day-to-day operation as well as for emergency situations in or out of the country.

Why take a global view of safety?

The thinking behind a global safety standard is that today’s business world takes advantage of technology to source the best products, suppliers and workers from around the world. Our businesses are no longer responsible solely for the workers in our local offices or factories.

The reach, and therefore the responsibility, is now much bigger than that, so we need to look beyond a local standard towards a standard that is applicable, for example, to our use of contractors and suppliers no matter where they are geographically located. ISO45001 attempts to provide a systematic approach to risk analysis and management, the development and introduction of safer work practices, the process for assessing compliance and a way to evaluate OH&S performance.

Because the standard applies around the world, it is hoped that it will be easier for organisations to manage worker safety even if they are located in different countries and under different jurisdiction as ISO45001 provides a benchmark that will be accepted around the world.

Who benefits from the change to ISO45001?

Well, in theory, everyone from worker to community should benefit from this new standard…. Workplace accidents and deaths have the potential to be reduced (perhaps one day largely eliminated) if organisations can embrace the more preventative and risk based approaches the standard offers. Consumers can choose to shop with an organisation, knowing that even if they are sourcing suppliers overseas, that they are providing a safe and responsible environment for those workers.

ISO45001 also thinks local- containing the requirement that local community be considered and not put at risk by a company’s workplace practices. A business with a strong reputation in the community for being ethical, responsible and sustainable will arguably find it easier to gain and maintain the loyalty of customers both in the local community and beyond.

Specifically, ISO45001 will provide a framework for all organisations to identify and manage OH&S risks, minimise the risk of workplace accidents, improve workplace safety, and measure compliance from each provider in their business systems, local or overseas.

The standard is built on the new Annex SL format, which means an ISO45001 safety management system will integrate easily with other key standards such as QMS ISO9001:2015 and EMS ISO14001:2015, for smoother management of workplace quality and risk management.

Need more information about how to transition across to ISO45001?

If you’d like more information about ISO45001 and/ or how to make the transition from an OHSAS18001 or AS4801 compliant safety management system, please visit the ICS web site.

This post first appeared on the ICS blog.


About Heather Bienefelt

Heather Bienefelt, Principal at Integrated Consulting Solutions, has been training, consulting and auditing for over 15 years in sectors as diverse as education, food manufacture, printing and packaging, automotive parts, healthcare and a wide range of other manufacturing, distribution and service industries.

As a Lead Quality and Food Safety Auditor, she specialises in the development, implementation, maintenance and auditing of ISO 9000 quality management systems and food safety management systems from inception to certification and beyond, including: development and management of audit schedules, development of documentation, internal auditing and reporting and preparation for external audit.

As a qualified Certificate IV trainer and workplace assessor, Heather has extensive experience in the design and delivery of training programs and workshops as well as the training and mentoring of internal audit teams.

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