ISO 45001 – Where Are We in 2021?

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Alcumus ISOQAR ISO 45001 Certification Seal

The benefits of high-quality and effective operational health and safety management are clear. At the top of that list of benefits is the protection of workers, but there are important commercial benefits too. They include preventing the business interruption that can occur as a result of health and safety incidents, as well as protecting the reputation of your business. Maintaining low insurance premiums is another advantage of effective workplace health and safety management, as is enhanced productivity. You can also reduce absenteeism and staff turnover.

ISO 45001 was designed to provide a framework for managing health and safety in the workplace. It is an international standard that was updated in 2018 and was designed to replace the previous standard, OHSAS 18001. Organisations that currently use OHSAS 18001 have until September to switch to the new ISO 45001 standard.

While September 2021 is the deadline for migration to the new standard, organisations have been able to obtain ISO 45001 since 2018. So, now is a good time to have a look at the early results.

Is ISO 45001 delivering the benefits that can be expected from the effective implementation of workplace health and safety management? What is the impact of ISO 45001 so far, and what can we learn? What has the uptake been like, and is it making a difference?

What We Know About the Uptake of ISO 45001

Let’s start by looking at whether organisations are pursuing accreditation to the new standard. OHSAS 18001, the sort-of predecessor to ISO 45001, was used worldwide by over 100,000 organisations. How close is ISO 45001 to that number?

While the new ISO 45001 is, in principle, a new standard rather than an updated standard, it is rooted in OHSAS 18001 and has many similarities. Therefore, migrating to the new standard is typically a smooth process. There will also be organisations that didn’t have accreditation under the old standard but that are now ISO 45001 certified.

The latest data we have on the uptake of ISO 45001 was published in the ISO Survey at the end of 2020. It provides an estimate of the number of valid certificates on 31 December 2019.

The survey showed there were 38,654 valid ISO 45001 certificates globally at the end of 2019. This result made ISO 45001 the fourth most popular ISO standard behind ISO 9001 for quality management, ISO 14001 for environmental management, and ISO/IEC 27001 for information security.

The top five sectors with the most valid certificates were:

  1. Construction
  2. Basic metal and fabricated products
  3. Electrical and optical equipment
  4. Other services
  5. Engineering services

In terms of countries with valid certificates, China had the most with 10,213 ISO 45001 certificates. That is more than a quarter of all certificates. Italy was second with 3,518. The UK was third on the list with 2,954 valid ISO 45001 certificates.

The top 10 countries were as follows:

  1. China – 10,213
  2. Italy – 3,518
  3. UK – 2,954
  4. India – 2,812
  5. Spain – 1,184
  6. Germany – 883
  7. UAE – 712
  8. Taiwan – 676
  9. South Korea – 614
  10. USA – 599

The annual growth rate is important to consider, too, as there were more than three times as many ISO 45001 certificates at the end of 2019 than there were at the end of 2018. As the deadline for moving to ISO 45001 from OHSAS 18001 is fast approaching, most experts believe there will be a further increase when the results for 2020 are released. This is despite the auditing challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the real indicator of success for ISO 45001 will be in the results for 2021 and beyond, i.e., whenever OHSAS 18001 is no longer valid.

What Has Been the Impact of ISO 45001?

As we are still in the transition phase for ISO 45001, we only have early indications of the impact. The fact that companies had to adjust business operations as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic will also have had an effect.

There are, however, two areas we can explore – contractors and leadership buy-in.

Contractors, ISO 45001, and Workplace Health and Safety Management

There has been a lot of discussion in recent years about the growing number of self-employed contractors. This group of people includes those in the gig economy as well as those who operate under a more traditional self-employed model.

The hard data does support the belief that organisations are increasingly turning to contractors rather than employing people directly. An example of those figures comes from the Office for National Statistics. While there is more recent data, we looked at figures for Oct-Dec 2019 as this was the last quarter that wasn’t at least partially impacted by the Covid-19 lockdown and other restrictions.

In this quarter, there were nearly 19 percent more self-employed workers than there were in the same quarter in 2012. The increase in the number of employees over the same period was just 10 percent.

This increasing number of contractors in the economy has health and safety implications. What impact does ISO 45001 have on this situation?

ISO 45001 uses the term “workers” to reference the group of people the standard is primarily concerned with protecting. Importantly, it does not make any distinction between directly employed workers and those who are not directly employed, such as contractors and agency workers.

Therefore, achieving the ISO 45001 standard involves managing workplace health and safety for all workers, including employees and contractors. That is good news for the growing numbers of contractors in the UK. At least, it is good news for those who provide services to companies that have or that are working to achieve ISO 45001 certification.

Top-Level Leadership Buy-In

The most important aspect of effectively managing workplace health and safety in an organisation is to have full and enthusiastic buy-in from top-level management. This includes the CEO/MD as well as members of the board. With this buy-in, managing workplace health and safety is more than a delegated box-ticking exercise. Instead, it becomes a core part of the business and its operational strategy.

In our 2017 post ISO 45001 – A Panacea for UK Health and Safety or Another Tick Box Exercise? this issue was highlighted as a major potential disadvantage, i.e., ISO 45001 accreditation won’t necessarily mean top-level management buy-in. In that post, we also highlighted a clause in ISO 45001 that seeks to address this issue. How has this developed as companies have started to implement the new ISO 45001 standard?

It is early days, of course, but there are good indications. While ISO 45001 won’t solve anywhere near all the problems related to making sure health and safety becomes a board-level issue, the standard has made a significant nudge in the right direction.

An example of this can be seen in the reflections of ISO 45001 lead auditor Dr Christel Fouche. In an article published in 2020, Dr Fouche explained the differences between completing audits under OHSAS 18001 and ISO 45001 in relation to management interviews.

Under OHSAS 18001, auditors would interview a management representative. In other words, top-level management would delegate the responsibility for explaining the organisation’s health and safety approach to a more junior member of the team.

Under ISO 45001, however, top-level management must be involved in the audit interview – usually the CEO and a board member.

Dr Fouche’s reflections on this difference are not unexpected, but they are interesting in terms of the overall objective of improving the management of health and safety in workplaces. Dr Fouche said management representatives would often provide “creative explanations” when asked a question. CEOs, on the other hand, get to the point directly and more robustly.

While this is the experience and viewpoint of one auditor, it does indicate that top-level management is taking at least this part of the ISO 45001 accreditation seriously. There are many questions unanswered, of course, particularly the continued commitment of top-level management once accreditation is achieved. As mentioned above, however, it does seem like a nudge in the right direction – at least for companies that have decided to pursue ISO 45001 accreditation.

So, Where Are We with ISO 45001?

ISO 45001 is gaining traction, it appears to be being well received, and it appears to be having the intended effect on things like making health and safety a core business concern. However, it is a voluntary process that a minority of businesses will engage in, even if there is the expected uptick in certifications in the coming years.

It is reasonable to assume that those businesses that do pursue ISO 45001 are moving in a positive direction in terms of workplace health and safety. However, everyone involved in and with an interest in health and safety has more to do, from the HSE to CEOs to factory floor workers. ISO 45001 may be a positive initiative, but it is not a silver bullet.

If your organisation is considering ISO 45001 and would like to understand what you need to get done to achieve certification then Alcumus ISOQAR has a free gap analysis tool.

If you’re already committed to achieving ISO 45001 certification then Alcumus ISOQAR is certified by UKAS to help you get there. Not all ISO certifications are equal

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