ISO 45001…what’s it all about?

The introduction of the latest ISO health & safety standard is never going to be heralded with the same enthusiasm as the next generation iPhone, but that doesn’t make it any less important. 

On 31st March 2021, the globally recognised British Standard BS OHSAS 18001 will be superseded by the new international management standard on occupational health and safety, ISO 45001. 

ISO 45001 came into force in March 2018, so most organisations who keep abreast of health & safety developments will be aware of its existence. What they might not have decided is whether they are going to work towards the new standard. 

By answering some FAQs on ISO 45001, the purpose of this blog is to help businesses establish whether the new standard is for them.

Q: Is there a legal obligation to comply with the ISO 45001 standard?

No - you’re not required by law to implement ISO 45001 or other similar management standards, but they can help provide a structured framework for complying with health & safety regulations.  

However, it isn’t the right course of action for every business. Whilst organisations that are familiar with other management standards will find it relatively straightforward to adopt ISO 45001, the HSE warns that small organisations with less formal management processes may find it difficult to interpret the standard and may be better off demonstrating competence in managing health & safety via other means. 

Q: What is the relationship between ISO 45001 and other safety standards such as OHSAS 18001 and ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 - would you need all of these?

ISO 45001 is the latest and greatest in terms of occupational health & safety management systems – if you implement this, you don’t need OHSAS 18001. Indeed, organisations who are already certified to BS OHSAS 18001 will need to upgrade to ISO 45001 by March 2021 as OHSAS will eventually become obsolete.

ISO 9001 is a Quality Management System (QMS) whereas ISO 14001 is an Environmental Management System (EMS) and ISO 45001 and OHSAS 18001 are occupational health & safety management systems. ISO 45001 was intentionally designed to be compatible with the other two ISO standards, through a modular ‘building block’ structure. Therefore, companies looking to build an Integrated Management System (IMS) combining all three systems will not need to start from scratch as there are some common building blocks. In other words, if companies have ISO standards for quality and the environment, it will be easy to implement ISO 45001 because it follows the same structure.

The advantage of building one IMS is that while the identified risks might be many and varied when it comes to the actions to address them, there is often convergence. The same operational controls may address quality and environmental, as well as health & safety risks. 

Q: What is the difference between OHSAS 18001 and ISO 45001?

This most notable difference between OHSAS 18001 and ISO 45001 is that with the latter, there is a greater focus on leadership, employee consultation & participation and occupational health & wellbeing. Organisations will need to have in place a strong leadership team that is fully on-board with health & safety. This commitment will then need to be cascaded throughout the workforce, through education and consultation, creating a culture where every single employee is engaged. Then there is the requirement for companies to demonstrate that they are taking actions to manage risks and opportunities. There was always an expectation that risks would be dealt with, but ISO 45001 calls for a more proactive and demonstrable approach, whereby actions are recorded and built into systems and structures. 

Q: What is the benefit of working towards ISO 45001?

It might seem, on the face of it, that ISO 45001 is just more work, more bureaucracy. There is no getting away from the fact that implementing ISO 45001 is a detailed and complex process, but it is also extremely worthwhile, bringing astronomical benefits to an organisation. 

Taking a structured approach to managing health & safety reduces the chance of risk factors being overlooked or ignored, thereby minimising the risk of accidents and making the working environment safer. Having the ISO 45001 accreditation is also a useful marketing tool, instilling customer confidence and helping to win new business. 

However, it is the process of implementing the standard that brings the most surprising benefits. In creating a culture that is founded on the wellbeing and engagement of the workforce, staff satisfaction and retention are improved, with knock-on effects in terms of productivity, lead time reductions, customer satisfaction, and more. In short, ISO 45001 is more than a badge to wear; it is a new way of working.