Occupational health and safety: the lowdown on future standard ISO 45001

Occupational health and safety: the lowdown on future standard ISO 45001

Paule Nusa, occupational health & safety expert with AFNOR Group, and Florence Saillet, standard development project manager for ISO 45001, answer our questions on this upcoming international voluntary standard to be published in the first half of 2018.

Why is an international standard on occupational health and safety being developed?

Florence Saillet: Quite simply because there isn’t one. In the absence of an international standard, organizations currently use British standard OHSAS 18001. In future they will be able to use a voluntary standard developed with experts from over 60 countries. Naturally, this project takes some time, but that’s the price we pay for arriving at a consensus and therefore a benchmark of genuine value.

Fundamentally, it should also be noted that the context has changed since 2007, when OHSAS 18001 was published. Risks in organizations may not have changed a great deal but we are however seeing significant developments in the culture of prevention. Current discussions on quality of life in the workplace concern foundational subject areas, for example the issue of raising of the retirement age and people working longer. ISO 45001 will encourage organizations to provide a safe and healthy workplace.

How will ISO 45001 be used?

Paule Nusa: It will be a methodological tool necessary for improving occupational health and safety performance in organizations. This covers prevention of work-related accidents, occupational illnesses and keeping employees healthy while striving to provide a healthy and safe working environment.

To this end, and as with all voluntary standards relating to management systems, it will be based on the PDCA model (Plan – Do – Check – Act). This is the framework within which organizations plan the measures they need to put in place in order to minimize the risk of harm. The preventive measures should address situations likely to lead to long-term health issues and extended absence from work, as well as those that may lead to accidents.

The draft was called into question in 2016. Will it be carried through?

Florence Saillet: Over a quarter of the participants, including France, did in fact vote against the draft as presented in 2016. Substantive adjustments have since been made, demonstrating that the content of a standard is never set in stone. We now know that the project will continue to completion. All the countries involved will vote this summer and the standard will be published in the first half of 2018.

Where can we see the draft text?

Florence Saillet: The most recent version of the text, still in the draft stage, will be made available in mid-May 2017. Anyone and everyone will be able to read it in order to contribute to the debate and, more importantly, plan ahead.

What will be the key points of the future standard?

Florence Saillet: As I see it there are two key points. The first is that the occupational health and safety management system should be constructed in consultation with employees. This is perhaps the most important aspect. It has been a tough negotiating point for which employee representatives and the International Labour Organization have fought long and hard.

The second is that ISO 45001 will require an on-the-ground approach in order to identify the risks for employees, and opportunities for anticipating risks. As a concrete example, when you plan to relocate, you look at the number of floors to be climbed, what needs to be moved, the equipment you need for packing and for moving things, travel times, drinks and snacks to keep you going, etc. And you do all this bearing in mind any inconveniences or problems that may occur if you were to forget. You also consider the benefits of planning ahead properly. ISO 45001 will require the same approach.

Although voluntary, won’t the standard be over-prescriptive, or be restrictive?

Florence Saillet: Clearly no. The standard will give objectives. It does not specify means or operational modes. There will of course be an annex setting out guidelines for application of the standard, but not in operational terms. ISO 45001 will propose an organizational system and this is essential given the very real – and prescriptive – regulatory requirements. The standard will therefore be a tool for acting, on an everyday basis, and then for progressing based on objectives that the organization sets itself and the resources it allocates. Take for example prevention of burnout: some organizations have introduced relaxation areas, others take measures involving working hours, and so on. In both these cases, ISO 45001 will support the approach.

World Health Day 2017 focused on the absolute necessity of collecting and using reliable data on occupational health and safety issues. Will the standard make this challenge easier to meet?

Paule Nusa: ISO 45001 will require an organization to identify hazards and assess the professional risks associated with its activities. It lays emphasis on evaluation of its occupational health and safety performance and on seeking the means to improve it. Any organization using the standard will therefore have to put in place a number of dashboards and indicators.

I think that one of the challenges today is moving beyond already well known quantitative indicators, such as frequency and severity of work-related accidents. There should be much more detailed monitoring of near accidents, hazardous situations and the success rate for completing preventive actions. There should also be use of indicators linked to difficult working conditions, health and quality of life in the workplace.

If a company wishes to commit to improving occupational health and safety, do they have to wait for ISO 45001 before acting?

Paule Nusa: If the organization is starting completely from scratch, I would recommend that it wait for the publication of ISO 45001 and then adopts its recommendations, even at the draft stage. This is a simple way of determining the scope and especially of staying one step ahead in terms of health and quality of life in the workplace. In addition, the majority of companies interested in the standard are already committed to a quality (ISO 9001) and environment (ISO 14001) approach. They are therefore already working on deploying the new versions of these standards, the structure of which has been revised. Given that ISO 45001 will be structured in the same way, it will then be easier for them to add in the occupational health and safety “brick”.

Another scenario: for a company that has already adopted and been certified to OHSAS 18001 for some time, the maturity it has acquired along with good information on the future ISO 45001 will enable it to switch standards. We are already offering relevant training actions and transition guides will be available to help these organizations make a successful migration.

More generally, I would encourage non-certified organizations to take the plunge. I say this since, as well as the advantage it brings in terms of gaining market share, it is also an effective way of supporting employees’ efforts, an aspect at the heart of the approach. Certification is also a reward for everyone who contributes to its success.

> Get training on the future ISO 45001 (in French)
> Request a quote for ISO 45001 certification (in French)
> Track the steps in development of the standard (in French)

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