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ISO 45001: live long and prosper

John F Kennedy once said: ‘Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.’

Heck, that man could deliver a line. But there’s more to his words than political spin. They’re relevant today, and every day – especially in business. Every business owner will tell you that the one constant in their lives is change, and there’s a big one coming.

In October 2016, the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) will publish its new Occupational Health & Safety Management standard ISO 45001, replacing the former standard that took care of the same area; OHSAS 18001. Nothing about the standard’s intentions will change; this is about ensuring the safety and wellbeing of workers worldwide, but there are some tweaks.

We all dislike change, to an extent. You know how it is: the first time you do a Windows update and grumble for half an hour. How Wagon Wheels used to be the size of your head but not anymore. That sort of thing.

But frankly, change is usually for the better, and it’s definitely the case with ISO 45001.

Here’s how:

  1. ISO 45001 will be written in accordance with the terminology and structural standards set out in Annex SL. This means that the structure of the standard, many of its definitions, and indeed, much of its text, will be immediately familiar to those who need to implement it.
  2. The terminology is modified to make it more relevant to all businesses – not just the large ones, and not just the ‘hazardous’ ones. Changing the language like this will improve buy-in from even small, non-risky businesses. Which is good for them, and for everyone.
  3. There’s an increased focus on risk-based approaches as a starting point for OH&S, similar to 9001:2015 and ISO 14001:2015. This should give businesses scope to create policies that are appropriate for them – small risk means simple policies!
  4. Health & Safety will have to be manifested from the top down. It will no longer be enough for upper management to rubber-stamp the company Health and Safety policy and dismiss it from their minds. They will have to build it into their business decisions – to ‘lead’ with Health and Safety in demonstrably clear focus, and engage workers with it too.
  5. There’s greater acknowledgment that businesses must minimise the risk of harm not just to physical, but to mental health. So factors like stress become a clearer consideration when creating OH&S policies.
  6. Perhaps the most important change is the consideration of ‘context’. Businesses will have to examine any and all external and internal issues that could impact on their ability to meet their OH&S responsibilities. And that will include working with suppliers and contractors. It’s not rocket science that this will lead to more conscientious procurement choices, ensuring every link in your ‘business chain’ is safe.

It’s in our nature to think that change will create work, but that may not be really the case here. ISO-watchers have already observed that ISO 45001 integrates well with the other standards and will probably cut the need for documentation into the bargain. In addition, certification in ISO 45001 will make your business immediately more attractive to all businesses who are considering their own ‘context.’ The best and safest companies will stick together, will look after their people, and prosper.

So, take JFK’s advice. Get ready for ISO 45001, and be certain not to miss the future. It looks good.




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