ISO 45001 – A Panacea for UK Health and Safety or Another Tick Box Exercise?

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ISO 45001

You probably have heard of ISO 45001 – it is the new standard for occupational health and safety. It is currently in development and is getting increasing amounts of attention. Is it, however, the answer to the UK’s persistent health and safety problem, or is it just a tick box exercise? Will it actually make workplaces safer or will it simply absolve companies of their health and safety responsibilities?

ISO 45001 will be an international standard. The ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is developing the standard to combat work-related deaths due to accidents or disease. The numbers are staggering: every day, 6,300 people around the world die because of an accident at work or from a disease they contracted as a result of work-related activities.

Any individual or organisation genuinely trying to do something about this must be encouraged and supported. That doesn’t mean, however, that initiatives should proceed without careful scrutiny or constructive critique.

In terms of ISO 45001, there are plenty of good things but there are also negatives. In fact, there are enough negatives to outweigh the positives.

Before going into that, let’s explore ISO 45001 and how it differs from the current standard.

What is ISO 45001?

As already explained, ISO 45001 will become the new occupational health and safety standard for companies and organisations all over the world. It is currently in development and its publication is expected in 2018.

For UK companies, ISO 45001 will replace the current standard BS OHSAS 18001. The main differences between ISO 45001 and the current standard include:

  • More emphasis on risk management
  • A requirement to involve and secure more engagement from senior management
  • A need for increased strategic consideration of the organisation’s context
  • The use of performance indicators to track improvement

As you can see, the features of ISO 45001 look like they should have a positive impact on workplace health and safety. You must, however, view these positive features in the context of the main problems with the standardisation system.

ISO Is No Guarantee of Quality

First, let’s look at the ISO system itself. Companies spend money and resources achieving ISO certification to demonstrate the levels of quality they deliver. Often, however, ISO certifications are paper exercises. In other words, what a company says in the certification process can be very different to the reality of what the company does.

After all, companies can do the paperwork to get a certification and then not follow through with the standard in their business practices. This is a risk for ISO 45001 too.

It’s All About Motivation

Of course, this comes down to motivation. For example, a company could pursue ISO 45001 certification when it becomes available to demonstrate it has done something about health and safety. In this situation, the company will enhance its reputation as well as making it through another stage of getting onto approved supplier lists. This sort of motivation is unlikely, however, to make workplaces safer for employees or members of the public.

On the other hand, if a company genuinely wants to create a top-down health and safety culture in the organisation with board-level participation, ISO 45001 can help. It can do this by assisting organisations in the development of effective management and implementation systems based on best practice standards.

Other Areas of Concern

A summary of the above points is that ISO 45001 has the potential to have a positive impact on workplace health and safety but this depends on:

  • An organisation’s motivation for achieving certification
  • The quality of its implementation follow-through

From this perspective, the promotion of ISO 45001 in the UK appears to have the wrong focus. To understand this, let’s look again at one of the differences between ISO 45001 and the existing standard, BS OHSAS 18001. Unlike BS OHSAS 18001, ISO 45001 will include:

  • A requirement to involve and secure more engagement from senior management

This is expanded on in a video on the BSI (British Standards Institution) website. Part of the video explains how businesses can prepare themselves for ISO 45001. One of the recommendations is to “make senior management aware that changes are coming”.

In other words, the BSI assumes that health and safety is something a company does (bottom-up) rather than being something that permeates through every facet and sinew of the business (top-down).

When a company does health and safety and then informs management, it doesn’t develop a health and safety culture. Instead, it develops a tick box culture that is more about reducing liability and winning plaudits than it is about making workplaces safer.

Should You Get ISO 45001 Certification?

Any type of ISO certification can be beneficial to your business. This includes in the area of health and safety. You don’t need ISO 45001, however, to change the culture in your organisation, eliminate accidents, and make your workplace safer. That requires commitment, a strategic approach, and board level involvement. There isn’t a tick box in the world that can make these things happen.

So, go for ISO 45001 when it becomes available, but make sure you do it for the right reasons and don’t regard it as the only solution to health and safety in your company.

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One Comment on “ISO 45001 – A Panacea for UK Health and Safety or Another Tick Box Exercise?”

  1. Pingback: ISO 45001 - A Marriage of Culture and Digitalisation? | e-permits insights

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