(QSE story 1/6) Context analysis : the new challenge for management system standards

Voluntary standards governing management systems now require a focus on the context of the organization's activity. The first in a series of articles aimed at educating users of integrated quality, security and environment (QSE) systems.

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Voluntary standards governing management systems now require a focus on the context of the organization’s activity. The first in a series of articles aimed at educating users of integrated quality, security and environment (QSE) systems.

Voluntary standards governing management systems are now built on the same structure, called the High Level System (HLS). And when you think about it, it’s not just a random detail. Common to voluntary standards ISO 9001 (quality), ISO 14001 (environment) and soon ISO 45001 (health and safety), the HLS structure sparks new thinking on the context in which an organization evolves, beyond the production of goods or services strictly speaking, whether the organization is an enterprise, a local authority or something else. The objective is twofold. First, determining the internal and external contextual elements which could have an impact on QSE objectives. Then, identifying the relevant stakeholders – that is, the players on which successful implementation depends. Does that sound too abstract? Let’s take an example.

A manufacturer that often turns to outsourcing takes a risk in terms of the accident rate even when its own staff is trained in QSE. Likewise, environmental management guidelines could be overridden on the scope of activities in its purview. In the same vein, ask yourself the following questions: Does the activity involve employee travel, remote work or additional intermixing of professional and personal life? Are customer requests evolving in the intended direction? How is the deployment of digital technologies impacting your processes?

Do the same thing to identify the relevant stakeholders: Who are the most important suppliers? What are the outside competencies in highest demand? Which supervisory bodies should always be called upon? Following the social responsibility approach, the idea is to understand the level of relationship established in order to better control it. On the other hand, the less you know, the greater the risk…

Plan ahead instead of correcting course

Forcing yourself to ask these types of questions is a way to raise awareness. It’s prevention, not corrective actions. Earlier versions of standards governing management systems may have led people to wait until something happened and then draw conclusions and improve. Now, with this line of questioning, you can plan ahead for the major issues that will – or might – impact intended results. Priorities are set from the outset in order to inform policy and objectives in line with the enterprise’s strategy.

To achieve this, QSE managers rely on supervisors and associated business lines. General management has to play a role of course, but so do human resources and the heads of IT, purchasing, logistics and of course representatives from production too.

Five to six issues and stakeholders, not more

You’re probably already thinking that this exercise could quickly get bogged down in complexity. How can that be avoided? Use identification models such as SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) or PESTEL (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Environmental, Legal;  this analysis should lead to the identification of the most influential factors in the market, society or industry studied). They will help you weigh the issues. Certain stakeholder factors and requirements will have more impact than others on the intended QSE performance. Come up with five or six – which should be more than enough.

There’s no need to provide documentary evidence at this stage; just determining the contextual elements will be enough. This will make the list even easier to deal with in management reviews. Still, be sure to define and share the list of issues and stakeholders that you have selected, as well as the method you used to come up with it, detailing the ones considered priorities and explaining why. This allows you to ensure the long-term viability of the process and to improve it continuously.

Finally, if you can, try to kill three birds with one stone: if your organization relies on an integrated management system related to standards ISO 9001, ISO 14001, OHSAS 18001 – and soon ISO 45001! – the context analysis can be conducted once, simultaneously addressing customer satisfaction, environmental management, and occupational health and safety.

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