ISO 45001 - The world's first international occupational health and safety standard


Health and Safety at work continues to be a challenge across the globe. Despite much modern progress in the area, over 7,600 people die every day from work related accidents or illnesses, equalling over 2.78 million a year (source: International Labour Organisation).

Likewise, occupational health and safety is a burden for both employers and the wider economy and can result in staff absence, business disruption, increased insurance premiums, reputational damage and losses from early retirements. In the UK at least, criminal prosecutions for health and safety failings are seeing greatly increased penalties, with fines in the millions of pounds becoming common.

In turn, employees and other individuals are best protected by a sensible and practical management system. A poorly planned approach (or no plan at all) will inevitably lead to injury. An overly complex or impractical system can also lead to trouble - it can create apathy or indifference for individuals who cannot realistically follow the system, undermining its purpose.

Aims and Timescales

In an attempt to combat this problem the International Organization for Standardization ("ISO") is developing a new standard - ISO 45001 - Health and Safety Management Systems - Requirements. Publication of the final standard is likely to be in the first half of 2018. The existing British Standard OHSAS 18001 will be withdrawn on publication of ISO 45001 and organisations currently certified to OHSAS 18001 will have a three year transition period to migrate across to ISO 45001.

The aim of the new standard is to:

  • Support organisations all over the world in providing a safe and healthy workplace for workers and other people;
  • Prevent deaths, work-related injury and ill-health; and
  • Continually improve health and safety standards  through the reduction of risks.

The standard is currently being developed by a committee of occupational health and safety experts, and will follow other management system approaches such as ISO 14001 and ISO 9001, which deal with environmental and quality management. It will take into account other standards in this area such as OHSAS 18001, the International Labour Organization's ILO-OSH Guidelines, various existing national standards and the ILO's international labour standards and conventions.

The Benefits

ISO 45001 is an opportunity for organisations to align their strategic direction with their OH&S management system. There is an increased focus on improving occupational health and safety performance, therefore, reducing risks. Benefits may include:

  • Reduction of work related injuries, ill health and death;
  • Eliminating or minimising OH&S risks;
  • Improvements in OH&S performance and effectiveness;
  • Demonstrating corporate responsibility and meeting supply chain requirements;
  • Protection of brand reputation; and
  • Motivating and engaging staff through consultation and participation.

Whilst the key aim of ISO 45001 is clearly the protection of employees and other individuals, adopting the standard will bring commercial benefit. A streamlined and well-managed health and safety system can reduce inefficiencies and costs in the system, and helps to make sure that things are done right the first time of trying.  In addition, companies that invite tenders for work now commonly ask for details of any accreditations held - in high risk sectors, failure to hold accreditations can prevent access to tenders entirely.

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