The new standard for safety management systems: what to expect of ISO 45001

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BS OHSAS 18001 is changing so it meets international requirements and new business practices. While there will be inevitable administrative changes, the new framework should prove to be a useful business management tool.

It is widely recognised that poor health and safety management has implications in terms of costs to organisations, individuals and society at large. Financially, the cost is put at approximately 4% of global GDP. In Great Britain, the Health and Safety Executive has estimated that workplace injury and work-related ill health caused 22.7m lost working days in 2011/12.

For those organisations seeking to prevent increased ill health and injury data and continually improve their performance, one approach to is to develop and implement a good, robust occupational safety and health (OSH) management system. It is a means by which an organisation can standardise its processes and procedures to assist in ensuring better profiling and control of its OSH risks and improve performance.

Perhaps the most widely recognised standard framework for OSH management systems is BS OHSAS 18001; more than 40 versions of this can be found worldwide. With the number of certifications against this standard having risen to more than 90,000 across 127 countries, this has led to the call for a new international standard for occupational health and safety. This new OSH standard, scheduled to be available in October 2016, will be known as ISO 45001.

What is changing?
ISO 45001 will be an international OSH management systems requirement standard with supporting guidance for implementation. This means that the standard can be adopted by any kind of organisation seeking to continually improve its OSH performance. According to the International Standards Organisation (ISO) the new standard will “where appropriate, be aligned to ISO 9001 (quality management system) and ISO 14001 (environment management system), which are undergoing revision and are intended to be published in 2015.

“This new standard on OSH will have the same structure, definitions and core text as is used for the present revisions of ISO 14001 and ISO 9001 and so allow for effective integration with them.”

At present there are approximately 50 countries represented on the working project committee (PC 238) and the first working draft framework of the standard was developed in October 2013.

Dave Parr, head of technical services at the British Safety Council and member of the BSI HS/1 committee on standards policy and strategy, said: “I think the concept of a new international standard is a positive development. I know from my experience of auditing organisations internationally that ISO 45001 will be well received. The main focus to be aware of is the application of Annex SL, which outlines how a management system is designed.”

Though most of the concepts and requirements will be familiar to those currently working with OHSAS 18001 there are currently three primary elements that people should be aware of – ‘context of the organisation’, ‘leadership’ and ‘documented information’.

Dave continues: “Importantly, the concept of ‘context of the organisation’ is a fundamental change to the existing 18001 standard. It asks the organisation to look at external and internal factors that might impact on its business, for example, changes to materials, technologies or labour relations; to look at the associated risks and then examine how they can be controlled through the safety management system. This will mean that there is no longer a need for a specific clause on ‘preventive action’ as it has become fundamental in the approach to the actual development of the safety management system.

“In relation to leadership, which is already recognised as challenging to write into a management standard that is to be audited against, certain elements will continue to be reflected as before in relation to top management commitment, but there will be other leadership indicators to take into consideration. Equally in relation to the approach to record keeping – it needs to reflect the new ways in which business operates across the digital environment and with processed data. This is what the new requirement of ‘documented information’ seeks to reflect.”

Annex SL has been released for comment, and is expected to cover 30-40% of the standard. However, there are still elements of the standard that need to be agreed upon, including key definitions such as ‘risk’, ‘worker’ and ‘workplace’.

Other elements that need to be reviewed and resolved include:

  • Outsourcing – in terms of what is your responsibility is as a business and where the boundaries lie
  • What is the focal point of the standard – OHSAS focuses on hazard identification, but this is related to a process industry-based approach, which is not necessarily applicable to all industry sectors. Perhaps risk identification/profiling would be more suitable, though this would need to be agreed in relation to business and operational risk as opposed to strict legal compliance.

What does it mean for my business?

The management system landscape is changing in relation to health and safety, but there is still ample time and opportunity to understand the potential implications for your business.

 Though the current OHSAS 18001 standard will be changing, a large proportion of the new ISO 45001 standard will be recognisable to those who are familiar with 18001.

The new ISO 45001 standard will have a structure similar to that of ISO 14001 and ISO 9001, including:

  • Scope
  • Normative references
  • Terms and definitions
  • Context of the organisation
  • Leadership
  • Planning
  • Support
  • Operation
  • Performance evaluation
  • Improvement

Dave adds: “It is expected that there will be additional time allowed for those with a current 18001 certificate to convert to the new standard. There will inevitably be some administrative changes that will incur some marginal cost to the business, but overall, there is little reason to worry and the new international standard should be embraced as a positive and helpful business management tool”.


  • ISO/CD 45001 (first committee draft) published May 2014
  • ISO/DIS 45001 (first draft international standards) to be published by February 2015
  • ISO/FDIS 45001 (final draft international standards) to be published by March 2016.



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