From OHSAS 18001 to ISO 45001

OHSAS 18001 to ISO 45001:

Richard Green CQP FQCI, Managing Director of Kingsford Consultancy Services, takes a closer look at the work being carried out on two standards in the ISO 45000 family that could impact on occupational health and safety management for all organisations. 

Occupational health and safety is critical in organisations of all sizes, with employee safety and wellbeing at the heart of any successful operation.

Two ISO standards governing occupational health and safety (OH&S) have come under the microscope in recent months, the effects of which should be noted by all audit and quality professionals.

ISO 45001:2018 Occupational health and safety management systems — Requirements with guidance for use was first published in March 2018. It drew much of its substantive content from its predecessor OHSAS 18001, but placed additional emphasis on strong leadership, better worker involvement and a focus on health, particularly mental health.

Organisations were initially given three years to migrate from OHSAS 18001 to ISO 45001, but this period was extended by the International Accreditation Forum a further six months as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The migration period finally closed on 30 September 2021 and, consequently, every organisation wishing to make the move from the earlier standard to ISO 45001 should now have done so.

Almost as soon as the migration period closed, a ballot was launched to determine what action should be taken in respect of its potential refresh. Every five years a standard is subject to systematic review, following which a decision is made on whether to update the standard, retain it ‘as is’ is or to delete it. Those reviews are carried out by an ISO Technical Committee, in this case TC283. ISO has more than 250 technical committees, made up of experts who represent their sector in the field. Committee members are either O-members, who observe the standards that are being developed, or P-members, who actively participate by voting on the standard during the stages of its development. The CQI has a category A Liaison status to TC283, meaning it makes an effective contribution to the work of the committee, as well as proposing new work items for the committee to develop.

No change until 2030

The ISO 45001 ballot closed at the start of December 2021. Despite the committee leadership favouring a refresh, the outcome indicated an overwhelming majority of national standards bodies wished to leave the standard untouched. As such votes are binding, the committee is bound to act in accordance with the outcome of the ballot.

Given that it will be five years before the next ballot is held and then a further three years to amend and publish the new editions, this decision could potentially result in no change to ISO 45001:2018 until 2030 at the earliest. Given the rapid ‘real world’ pace of change in OH&S practices, processes and technologies, the risk of ISO 45001 becoming increasingly irrelevant is a genuine one.

Balanced against this, while the leaders of TC283 have the authority to initiate a new ballot at any time, politically this would be difficult to justify in the short term, given the extent of the current opposition to change. Instead, a decision has just been taken to create a new task group, ‘TG6 – Preliminary work for future revision of ISO 45001’, to carry out work now which would otherwise not be undertaken until after the next systematic review.

This work includes reviewing:

  • approximately 1,500 comments received at the second draft international standard (DIS2) stage of the initial ISO 45001 document, which were not discussed;
  • the comments received at systematic review ballot;
  • comments received via the 2021 user survey;
  • ISO 45001 for areas where more explicit language can be used for inclusivity purposes;
  • ISO 45001 suitability for smaller organisations;
  • key issues identified through the emerging themes work in TG4, and drafting of possible text to address these.

Following that review, a preliminary draft will be developed, aligned with the revised Annex SL. By carrying out these tasks in advance, when the time comes to actually undertake the refresh, it should proceed more quickly. The expectation is that this will bring forward the timetable by about four years; as such the current thinking is ISO 45001 edition 2 will be with us in 2026.

Meaningful indicators

Also under consideration is ISO 45004 Occupational health and safety management – Guidelines on performance evaluation, with the TC283 working group 4 (WG4) meeting to consider the latest draft.

This group was established with a view to producing a wider, more meaningful set of indicators of health and safety performance than those which are typically adopted. This standard is currently at working draft 4, which reflects the challenges associated with attempting to move away from a cultural emphasis on trailing indicators (accidents we have had, sickness we have experienced) to a new focus on leading indicators (predictive measures which allow action to be taken in advance of OH&S issues arising).

The standard is intended to assist organisations to monitor, measure, analyse, and evaluate occupational health and safety (OH&S) performance and to select and use performance evaluation indicators to support continual OH&S improvement. The working draft opens with a list of typical OH&S processes to which performance evaluation can readily be applied, and lists others business processes that directly impact OH&S, which would also benefit from measurement. Examples of key performance indicators (KPIs) are also provided, along with guidelines as to how to develop good indicators.

Central to the implementation of the standard is the development and implementation of an OH&S performance evaluation process. This process must operate at many levels, including the organisation as a whole, top management, individual functions and processes, risks, hazards and workers themselves. Advice is given as to how such a process should be designed and developed, how it can be made more effective, pitfalls to be avoided and how to integrate the performance evaluation process into ‘business as usual’.

Unusually for an ISO standard, specific reference is made to the role of middle management and its importance in performance evaluation. The document closes with a number of useful annexes, packed with examples and good advice.

While this is a relatively early point in the development of this standard, the initial signs are promising for what should be a valuable addition to any OH&S manager’s library.

Attribute to original publisher/ publishing organization: Richard Green CQP FQCI, Managing Director of Kingsford Consultancy Services,