International health and safety standard puts emphasis on role of senior management, says expert

Out-Law Analysis | 13 Feb 2018 | 2:22 pm | 1 min. read

ANALYSIS: Businesses will be expected to lead from the top on occupational health and safety issues once a new international standard takes effect.

ISO 45001 is due to be published next month after gaining the approval of global standard-setting body the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). Although businesses certified under British Standard OHSAS 18001 will have three years to transition to the new standard, plans to do so should be put in place as soon as possible as the changes will require more than cosmetic adaptation of current management systems.

The first global standard of its kind, ISO 45001 is intended to provide a framework to improve employee safety, reduce workplace risks and create better, safer working conditions, regardless of the size, type or nature of the business or where it is located in the world. It covers both physical and mental health.

The new standard follows the 'plan - do - check - act' model, which provides a framework for organisations to minimise the risk of harm. Although this focus on risk is not new, the emphasis in ISO 45001 on a risk-based approach brings the standard into line with ISO 9001:2015 (quality management systems) and ISO 14001:2015 (environmental management systems), which also take risk as their starting point. The standard also shares a structure and terminology with these standards, which will make it easier for businesses to integrate occupational health and safety management into the overall management system.

The biggest change for businesses will be the focus in ISO 45001 on strong leadership from the top and worker participation. The standard expects health and safety matters to be integrated into the structure of an organisation ensuring buy-in from boardroom level downwards and greater worker participation, rather than leaving health and safety matters solely to a health and safety manager.

The new standard puts more emphasis on continual assessment of risks and opportunities, and encourages businesses to establish systematic processes which go further than assessing only those health and safety issues which directly impact on the business. Businesses are required to take into account the bigger picture, including how suppliers and contractors manage their risks and how their work may impact on surrounding communities.

Businesses should take this opportunity to review existing health and safety compliance policies to identify any gaps and ensure that they are filled. At the very least, all businesses need to have proactive, regularly reviewed and updated policies in place which are fully supported from the top down and properly resourced. Policies need to go further than merely identifying hazards: instead, they should focus on risk identification and control, cover employee health as well as safety and encourage worker participation.

Jon Cowlan is a health and safety expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind