Health & Safety

Lift yourself to the next level

Now that the first implementers of the new global H&S standard, ISO 45001, have moved through the process, Gay Sutton takes a closer look. What is involved, how do you go about it… and how does it benefit your business?

Companies implementing the global quality management system standard ISO 9001, or the environmental management system standard ISO 14001, will be aware of the enormous ongoing benefits accredited certification can deliver. There are advantages to be gained internally, in terms of management improvements and productivity gains, and externally, in corporate reputation and supply chain competitiveness. Now it is the turn of occupational health and safety, for which international standard ISO 45001was published on 12th March 2018.


“ISO 45001 provides a framework and tool for organisations to follow to implement effective health and safety,” says Kate Field, Global Product Champion for Health and Safety at business improvement company BSI. “The focus is very much on prevention of injuries and ill-health, and encouragingly, the provision of a healthy workplace. So, it goes beyond mere safety compliance and looks more holistically at what makes a happy and healthy workforce.”

Companies operating in Europe, of course, already have rigorous H&S regulations to comply with and are well aware of the benefits of improving H&S in the workplace. “But those improvements then tend to plateau out,” Kate explains. “By following the ISO 45001 framework, organisations move to the next level.

“Legislation is the minimum requirement needed to keep people safe and healthy. ISO 45001 is about best practice and provides a robust framework that can be consistently applied. Not only can it reduce the occurrence of accidents and incidents, but it also reduces things like sickness absence rates. There is also good evidence to show that where organisations get it right, it improves recruitment and retention, and results in a more loyal and productive workforce.”

Kate Field

Kate has over 18 years’ experience in OH&S, covering most industry sectors. She started her career with HSE (Health and Safety Executive) in the UK, before moving into various industries and then into consultancy work.

An experienced trainer and qualified lecturer, Kate joined BSI as Head of Information and Intelligence at the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. She is is now BSI’s Global Product Champion for Health and Safety, supporting the delivery of excellence and expertise across 193 countries.


Kate Field, Global Product Champion at BSI.

Flexibility and scalability

For companies considering adopting the standard, Kate has some interesting advice. “The main thing is not to be scared by it. Many of the elements will already be in place, such as risk assessments and mechanisms for talking and engaging with the workforce.

“ISO 45001 is an outcome-based management system and is designed to be proportionate to the size and nature of the business. So a small business won’t need to create a complex, bureaucratic, paper-based system. The organisation can also decide on the scope of the management system; you can choose to apply it to a particular site or a particular activity-based area of business. It’s designed to fit your needs and help you best manage occupational health and safety.”

Already the first implementers have moved through the process. So now that it is settling in, what does it entail and what are the benefits?

ISO 45001 provides a framework and tool for organisations to follow to implement effective health and safety.

Key elements

To move from a state of regulatory compliance to ISO 45001 compliance, Kate explains that there are five broad areas to focus on: leadership, culture, design, worker participation and consultation, and the supply chain.

Leadership and culture: The standard has a strong focus on the role of top management in driving occupational health and safety improvement. “And that’s around creating a culture that supports positive occupational health and safety. So, it needs much stronger ownership by top management.”

Design: Another interesting facet of ISO 45001 is its focus on prevention, particularly at the design stage. “This ensures that the proactive identification of hazards and risks begins at the conceptual design stage, and this can be in the design of the workplace facility, the product or the organisation. If you can design hazards out, then you make your life easier.”

Worker participation: Across Europe, EU H&S regulations ensure that companies have mechanisms in place for worker consultation and participation. ISO 45001 takes that a step further and recognises that good engagement by the workforce brings measurable H&S benefits as well as improvements in quality and output. The new standard identifies some very specific areas where workers at all levels from the shop floor to senior management must be consulted, and then participate in the decision-making.

Supply chain: This focuses on understanding the risks and hazards that can be introduced by the supply chain, and how to manage them. It therefore covers all aspects of interaction with suppliers and contactors, from the materials and products they use to their presence and behaviour on site.

Accredited certification – step by step

Initial step: For anyone interested in moving towards ISO 45001, the first step is to buy a copy of the standard (see document links on p19). “Then organisations can make a decision about whether they simply want to use elements of it as a tool to help them with occupational health and safety, or whether they want to go through the journey to meet the requirements of the full standard, and then gain accredited certification.”

Preparation and planning: Having read the standard and perhaps obtained some supporting material, a logical place to start is with a gap analysis. Look at the systems and processes you already have in place and analyse the changes you need to make to meet the full requirements of the standard. From that you can draw up a step-by-step action plan that prioritises and tackles the areas you need to address.

Training: Next, think about the training and competency of your workforce and arrange training programmes to enable your staff to reach the levels of knowledge that will be needed. For example, your top management will need to understand the role required of them and buy into it. Those developing the management system will need to be armed with the correct knowledge and skills. And you will need to train people in the business to undertake internal audits. There will be a range of other skills and competencies required throughout the business, although some of them may already be in place because of the rigorous EU legislation.

Accredited certification: Finally, once the company has worked through the action plan and internal audits, it is ready to go for accredited certification. Contact an accredited certification body to get the process in motion.

“Accredited certification is then a two-stage process,” Kate comments. “We (BSI), or another accredited certification body, will audit the organisation to see if it meets the requirements. Once we are happy it does, then we will award accredited certification.”


Health and safety should be a positive aspect of every organisation’s culture.

What challenges should you look out for?

The experiences of companies going through the accredited certification process so far have varied depending on the size and nature of the organisation and their starting point. Kate reports that some distinct trends are emerging:

Role of top management: There can be challenges in ensuring engagement by the top management. Typically, the health and safety manager with the health and safety director have driven such change. However, ISO 45001 requires that everyone at the top, from the CEO and HR director to the finance director, has a role in creating a positive culture for health and safety. “This has been quite a change for some organisations. But once they understand the reasons why this should happen, and the benefits it brings, we do see these changes take place.”

Participation and consultation: There are some very specific things that the ‘non-managerial’ workforce – shop floor workers – have to be consulted on. That means they will be asked about their views and must then be involved in the decision-making. “Some organisations have had to work hard to demonstrate that they’re fulfilling these specific requirements,” Kate warns.

Competency: There has been a trend around organisations demonstrating they have the right competencies at the right levels on health and safety. There must be evidence that the correct skill sets are in place.

Taking action: “We tend to see this with other management systems as well – where organisations carry out their internal audit and identify actions but are not always able to demonstrate they’ve done anything to correct the issues. To effectively correct a weakness, it is important to look for the root causes of the problem and then correct those root causes. What often happens is that organisations don’t address the root causes. They address the immediate problem but then see the same problem turn up again at the next audit,” Kate explains.

Driving up performance

While some of these difficulties have revolved around documenting analysis of shortfalls, and the steps taken to address them, it is also worth remembering that ISO 45001 is about best practice. It is an iterative process based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle and is designed to lead to a culture of continuous improvement.

“It’s not a static one-off exercise,” Kate concludes. “It’s about driving up performance and continually looking for opportunities to improve safety and health within the workplace.”

Whether you’re aiming to adopt the standard in full, apply elements of it to the entire organisation, or focus on a site or work stream, it will no doubt bring significant benefits that continue to accrue over time.

ISO 45001 key facts

  • Introduced on 12th March 2018
  • Developed by ISO, based on the BSI’s OHSAS 18001standard, the International Labour Organisation’s ILO-OSH guidelines, various national standards, and the ILO’s international labour standards conventions
  • The existing OHSAS 18001 will be withdrawn on 11th March 2021 and companies have three years to migrate


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