Though the development of this new international occupational health and safety (OHS) management system standard was to harmonize OHS management systems across the globe, there were also some clear additional elements and differences in methodology.
The most distinct change is the concept of “risk-based” thinking which is now embedded within the requirements of ISO 45001. This means risk management principles are now the foundation of the OHS management system.
ISO 45001 requires organizations to implement a process-based approach for the elimination and mitigation of OHS risks. This approach ensures that risks are identified correctly, and in a timely manner, so that effective controls can be implemented. As a result, the familiar requirement of “Preventive Action”, is no longer expressly mentioned as part of the ISO 45001 OHS management system, but it is rather embodied within, allowing the whole OHS management system to act as a preventive tool. This new process-based approach encourages an organization, to not only consider risks, but also opportunities for continuous improvement.
ISO 45001 focuses on the interaction between an organization and its business environment whilst OHSAS 18001 traditionally only focused on managing internal OHS risks and compliance. This change forces organizations implementing the new ISO 45001 to look beyond their immediate OHS issues and consider what the wider community and stakeholders expects of them. For example, they are required to check that contractors and suppliers have systems in place to address OHS issues. The divergence in focus is therefore much broader than merely focusing on the OHS conditions for internal employees.
ISO 45001 also extends beyond compliance issues and goes above and beyond the norm to include and address the sustainability of organizations. To be effective, ISO 45001 needs to be a part of the overall management system by aligning the OHS objectives with the strategic direction of the organization. The goal is to assist organizations to anticipate, prepare, respond and adapt to variability and change. This provides organizations with the methodology to not only survive, but prosper as it places an increased emphasis on the need for the leadership and management team to be actively involved in driving and continually improving OHS performance. This, in turn, is considered one of the driving forces of corporate sustainability.
Due to the current pandemic, the implementation of an effective OHS management system aligned with ISO 45001 has become more vitally important than ever. Proven conformance to a recognized OHS management system standard increases employee engagement and it garners trust from customers/consumers, the broader community and relevant stakeholders. The absence of an effective OHS management system in today’s environment can have dire consequences which may lead to devastating economic and reputational risk for an organization.