New ISO occupational health and safety standard draft

ISO safety man 2

A new ISO standard requires health and safety aspects to be part of an overall management system and no longer just an added extra. 

ISO 45001 Occupational health and safety management systems – Requirements has now reached committee draft stage and is expected to be published in late 2016. 

ISO 45001 helps companies and organisations around the world ensure the health and safety of the people who work for them. The standard is inspired by OHSAS 18001.

ISO talked to David Smith, chair of the committee developing the standard.

ISO: Can you tell us about some of the major differences between OHSAS 18001 and the new ISO 45001?

David: The overall aim of the standard remains the same and those familiar with OHSAS 18001 will recognise many of the themes in the new ISO standard. However, there have been some interesting developments on the new rules for developing International Management System Standards. For example, there is now a much stronger focus on the ‘context’ of an organisation and a stronger role for top management and leadership.

ISO: What do you mean by the ‘context’ of an organisation?

David: In the new standard, ISO 45001,  an organisation has to look beyond its immediate health and safety issues and consider what the wider society expects of it. Organisations have to think about their contractors and suppliers, and, for example, how their work might affect their neighbours in the surrounding area. This is much wider than just focusing on the conditions for internal employees and means organisations cannot just contract out risk.

ISO: And how is the role of the organisation's leadership different?

ISO 45001 requires that these occupational health and safety aspects now be embodied in the overall management system of the organisation, requiring a much stronger buy-in from its management and leadership. This will be a big change for users who may currently delegate responsibility to a safety manager, rather than integrate this entirely into the organisation’s operations.

ISO 45001 requires health and safety aspects to be part of an overall management system and no longer just an added extra.

ISO: OHSAS 18001 is a widely adopted standard and has been very successful. Why are we developing an ISO standard?

David: There are a several reasons for looking at this topic using the ISO system.

  • Many organisations are already using several ISO management system standards, so an occupational health and safety tool that can be easily integrated into this makes things a lot easier.
  • We have focused on easy integration with ISO 14001 (Environmental management systems – Requirements with guidance for use) as many organisations, especially small businesses, have one person that looks after both safety and environmental concerns.
  • We also hope that the ISO name and recognition will give further credibility to the standard and drive wider adoption.

Also, one of the fantastic things about this ISO project has been the involvement from countries across the globe, from Europe and America, but also Africa, Asia, and South America. This will help us to create a tool that will work for everyone.

We have also had strong involvement from the International Labour Organization (ILO), who are experts on the topic and have some very valuable insights to bring to the table.

Of course, with this many stakeholders, the development work isn’t always easy and there are disagreements. But, to have so many people involved has been wonderful and gives me hope that we are on track to providing a tool that can be used by any organisation, within any regulatory framework, in any country.

ISO: So for any new users out there, can you tell us more about the major benefits of using this standard?

David: If you implement the system and structure we suggest, and do it properly, you can reduce the risk of causing harm to the people working for you.

According to ILO statistics published this year, around 2.3 million died from work-related accidents or diseases (ill health) in 2013. These are shocking statistics and a heavy burden for society. Implementing a strong occupational health and safety management system helps organisations:

  • reduce accidents and ill health
  • avoid costly prosecutions and perhaps even reduce insurance costs
  • create a culture of positivity in the organisation when its people see that their needs are being considered.

Standards New Zealand is an observer member of the committee that developed the draft of ISO 45001. If you’re interested in the work of this committee, please email

Published in consumer and occupational safety.

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