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Managing to the right standard: the internationalisation of OHSAS 18001

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As the work to develop the management system standard for occupational health and safety (OHSAS 18001) into an international standard continues, the question still remains whether occupational health and safety (OHS) management systems are achieving their aims.


With over 127 countries currently using OHSAS 18001 and equivalent standards, there’s a worldwide need to harmonise health and safety management systems using an international standard and share best practices.

Originally created by BSI, the UK business standards company, OHSAS 18001 was first published in 1999 and is now being adopted by the International Organisation for Standardisation as a best practice framework for identifying and controlling health and safety risks, reducing potential accidents, aiding legislative compliance and improving overall performance.

Results from a BSI survey completed over five years ago identified that users of OHSAS 18001 saw an impressive return on investment after a period of two to three years of rigorous assessment and improvement initiatives. The research was extended and repeated in a poll at the Safety & Health Expo in July 2014. This time, the poll investigated the changing perceptions of health and safety as more organisations strive to manage and reduce occupational health and safety risks and hazards.

OHSAS 18001 is still valid and with the update of HSG65 to a similar plan-do-check-act format, it is now time to review performance of OHS management systems again.

Findings from the first survey showed that users of management systems identified bureaucracy and an overburden of paperwork as being detrimental to the effective management of OHS. At the time, there were indications users were unaware of the requirements for documentation to be flexible and based on risk and competence.

The latest poll found that the negative perception surrounding health and safety is unfounded. The majority (67%) of respondents did not perceive paperwork and bureaucracy to be detrimental and that the benefits of effective management outweighed the burden. Interestingly, 93% of respondents believed that the increased focus on health and safety over the past decade has made a difference to their business.

The recent poll also identified that OHS management systems are still being utilised within the workplace, albeit in a small way. It found that in order to reduce the risk to their employees, 37% of respondents’ businesses are using OHSAS 18001. The poll also identified that only 35% of respondents are using HSG65 as an aid to OHS management system compliance and improvement.

This itself leaves a gap where a structured approach to risk management could be beneficial. Worryingly, only 35% of respondents have implemented internal health and safety policies and procedures, and only 31% have provided training to their staff; highlighting that there is certainly still room for improvement.

The Institute for Work & Health researched the benefits of OHS management systems by investigating different countries’ approaches – namely where there exist voluntary schemes (such as HGG65 and OHSAS 18001) and mandatory requirements set by government. The studies, while limited to a small cohort of organisations, identified that whether voluntary or mandatory management systems requirements are in place, improvement to the management of OHS can be achieved through a structured approach to risk identification, management and improvement. It also shows that organisations in the UK are still not making use of the tools and support available from OHS management systems standards.

With the evolution of HSG65 into the plan-do-check-act approach of OHSAS 18001 and the planned evolution of OHSAS 18001 to ISO 45001, it is hoped that wider adoption will enhance the planning for, and active management and improvement, of occupational health and safety. Encouragingly, the poll found that over three quarters (76%) felt that internationalisation of the current standard for health and safety will have a positive impact on its adoption.

Tim Sparey is tutor delivery manager at the BSI

 

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