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Occupational Health and Safety:
13 questions/answers for full insight

What is OH&S?

The subject of OH&S, standing for Occupational Health & Safety, is regulated to a high degree. Various employee representative bodies in companies and organizations are also involved. In addition to the laws and decrees forming part of national regulatory requirements (in France, the Labour Code), a number of voluntary standards such as those published by AFNOR, ISO and CEN, directly address OH&S and define it in operational terms. This is the case of ISO 45001 for example, which in its terminology section specifies that an “OH&S policy” is a “policy to prevent work-related injury and ill health to workers and to provide safe and healthy workplaces.” Another definition, focusing directly on key elements: “occupational health and safety risk” which is the “combination of the likelihood of occurrence of a work-related hazardous event(s) or exposure(s) and the severity of injury and ill health that can be caused by the event(s) or exposure(s).”

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Why train and how to train in OH&S?

According to the ILO, more than 2.3 million people around the world die as a result of work-related accidents or diseases each year. Also according to the ILO, the human cost of poor occupational health and safety practices accounts for 4% of global gross domestic product each year.

This is why occupational health and safety is a fundamental concern for most organizations and companies.

The new ISO 45001 standard is now an essential component for any OH&S training. It provides guidance on how to implement an OH&S approach in your organization by means of a management system targeting continual improvement. AFNOR Competencies also offers more specific training, for example on electrical accreditation, ATEX (explosive atmospheres) and industrial risk prevention.

See our OH&S training solutions leading to a certificate or qualification

What is an OH&S management system?

A management system is a type of organization put in place in a company or, in a broader sense, in an organization. Applied to OH&S, a management system is a set of interrelated or interacting elements of an organization to establish OH&S policies and objectives and processes to achieve those objectives.

An OH&S management system aims to achieve three objectives: continual improvement of OH&S performance (involving measured results), fulfilment of legal requirements and any other requirement defined by the organization in question, and achievement of the OH&S objectives.

A company does not have to put an OH&S management system in place. It’s a voluntary approach, enabling companies to establish an OH&S system at the core of their operation, deploying the PDCA concept, in other words, Plan Do Check Act.

All the ISO management system standards adopt this approach.

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How do we prepare for OH&S problems?

Management system standards like ISO 9001 (Quality), ISO 14001 (Environment), ISO 50001 (Energy) and, of course, ISO 45001 (Occupational Health & Safety) lead us to consider the context in which the organization operates, in addition to the production of goods or services in the narrow sense, for all organizations including companies, local authorities or other types.

The objective is twofold: firstly, determine the internal and external aspects of context that could have an impact on the organization’s QSE objectives. Next, identify the relevant interested parties, in other words, the stakeholders on which effective operation depends. Requiring oneself to ask these types of questions increases awareness. It’s all about prevention, not corrective action. Previous versions of standards on management systems could have the effect of waiting to experience something in order to draw conclusions from it and to improve. Now, with this self-questioning process, we anticipate major issues that will – or could have – impacts on the intended outcomes. We define priorities at the outset, for input into the policy and the objectives, linking with the company’s strategy.

To find out more, buy standard ISO 45001(in English) 

What is ISO 45001?

Since March 2018 occupational health and safety (OH&S) management has had its own dedicated international voluntary standard: ISO 45001, the fruit of four years of discussions involving more than sixty countries. The standard maps out a new path to significantly improve prevention of occupational accidents, injuries, musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), stress- or fatigue-related complaints, etc. and therefore also help organizations improve their competitiveness.

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Who wrote ISO 45001?

As with all voluntary standards, ISO 45001 was co-written by users, for organizations worldwide. It was approved by 93% of the countries represented at the final vote on 25 January 2018. The AFNOR commission, representing France, was able to express its position and influence certain sections in defence of its ideas. Ultimately it ensures that the text takes into account the basic principles of prevention, which it considers especially important. Involvement in the co-writing and revision of voluntary standards is open to all.

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Is ISO 45001 restrictive?

Received ideas are hard to shift. When the word standard is mentioned, many people think of “obligation, stringency, having to toe the line…” However, international standard ISO 45001 is quite the opposite: like all standards, its application is voluntary. Only 1% of standards are mandatory in terms of application because they are included in regulatory requirements! Similarly, an approach involving certification based on a standard is also voluntary. And this is also true ISO 45001. As a certification body, we can certainly attest to the very diverse nature of organizations using it, voluntarily. This ISO standard is used by security companies, public works contractors, handling firms, etc. but also service companies. ISO 45001 is often combined with other standards focusing on quality or the environment, depending on the organization’s issues. Why? Quite simply because it does not set any requirements on means. By avoiding being prescriptive, it leaves organizations free to define how to put in place an effective occupational health and safety policy. This flies in the face of those who still think that standards are restrictive!

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Why have OH&S certification?

There are two types of OH&S certification: one for organizations, and one for people. For an organization, holding OH&S certification indicates compliance with regulatory requirements and effective organization for advancement. This is a differentiating factor in terms of gaining market share. It’s also an effective way of supporting employees’ efforts. Certification is a reward for everyone who contributes to its success. AFNOR Certification audits underlie the continual improvement approach. It’s a simple way of optimally managing occupational risks by improving safety of workers and reducing risks in the workplace. ISO 45001 certification helps develop sharing of good practices among employees and contributes to improving organizations’ performance by creating better working conditions.

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For a person, certification attests to that person’s OH&S and auditing competencies. It’s a recognized way of making others aware of your expertise and so facilitates offering your services. This applies in the area of integrated QSE management, for companies and organizations with a multi-certification approach (standards ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and OHSAS 18001), and more specifically in occupational health & safety.

Which organizations commit to OH&S?

Organizations of all kinds commit to an OH&S policy. ISO 45001 is universal in scope since it’s the result of an agreement between many countries with different experiences, practices, cultures and legislation. It is just as appropriate for use by micro-businesses, SMEs, mid-cap companies and large groups as by public organizations or professional federations. ISO 45001 was designed to be applicable to all organizations regardless of size, product or service provided, or area of activity. The evidence: organizations that have requested certification are very diverse in nature, for example the Moroccan pharmaceutical laboratory Afric-Phar (read their story here) and electronic components manufacturer Axon Cable (read their story here).

What are the OH&S risks?

AFNOR Group does not keep an index of OH&S risks, but we can share feedback from organizations who receive training in OH&S and/or request ISO 45001 audits. Occupational health & safety risks are specific to each activity, each business unit, and each context. ISO 45001 leads organizations to carry out an assessment of the OH&S risks and of the opportunities arising from this. What do these two notions cover? Risk is defined as the effect of uncertainty, which implies a cause-effect relationship involving a number of determining factors (legal, social, societal, etc.) and their consequences for the intended result. Whereas opportunities relate to measures that may be taken to achieve expected benefits. If an organization or a company have to put in a great deal of effort but the predicted gains are small, there is no great benefit in exploiting this opportunity. Conversely, if the potential benefit is considerable, then this is an opportunity worth seizing and addressing it will be a determining factor when planning actions.

The most important aspect of this approach is to focus on the issues identified by the organization as priority and strategic. It is better to take fewer actions but target them better in terms of desired performance rather than trying to address everything and spreading your efforts too widely.

ISO 45001 does not impose any particular method to be employed when appraising risks and opportunities. Very often the notions of frequency and severity are considered since they are commonly employed in the health and safety field to establish cause-effect relationships. For each risk in your management system you will be able to define an exposure frequency and the severity of the impact on the management system. Similarly, the questioning used for compilation of the single document on the risks identified by the organization and the assigned level of these risks will be useful for prioritizing those to be taken into account.

The risks and opportunities approach serves as a very useful decision-making support tool, as well as helping define priorities. Previously, certain preventive actions could be formalized based on chance circumstances and reflected a passive approach. On the contrary, the QSE management standards – through this notion of opportunity – clarify the benefit to organizations of exploiting a situation.

What is the procedure for an ISO 45001 audit?

ISO 45001 certification for companies/organizations is issued for three years with an annual follow-up audit, in accordance with regulations for accreditation bodies and IAF rules at international level. AFNOR Certification auditors conduct their audit and submit the audit report together with a certification proposal (certification, retention, renewal, withdrawal) to the authorized decision-making experts. These experts study the report and make the certification decision on reading the report, in accordance with the accreditation rules laid down in the 17021-x. series of standards. In the case of ISO 45001, an external renewal or follow-up audit is conducted  annually. Consult our teams to find out about cost and get a quote.

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How to get started with an OH&S policy?

Don’t start from scratch! Voluntary standards are there to help you save time: they provide you with proven approaches, developed by subject experts, in a collective and participatory way. These approaches are the most appropriate and based on consensus. If you want to develop an OH&S policy, buy ISO 45001; this is the simplest way to get started. Our training solutions will enable you to improve competencies and put the OH&S policy in your organization on the right track. Certification is very clearly a way of formalizing your approach.

Download our practical guide on ISO 45001