International OHS Management Systems Standard Clears Another Hurdle

Published August 2, 2017
Member countries of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and those involved in the development of ISO 45001, Occupational health and safety management systems – Requirements, have voted to approve its latest draft. The approval keeps ISO 45001 on schedule for publication around February 2018, although the timeline could change depending on the outcome of ISO Project Committee 283’s next meeting, which will be held in Malaysia this September. PC 283 is the group of occupational health and safety experts responsible for developing the standard.

In the ISO standards development process, each country that participates in the Project Committee has one vote. The United States, which is represented at PC meetings by its Technical Advisory Group (TAG) committee, was one of several countries that voted “yes with comments” on the draft standard—a vote for approval that specifies areas for further discussion.

One such area is the standard’s requirement that company management commit to a policy of eliminating hazards and reducing risks.

“The U.S. TAG’s concern is the draft’s use of the word ‘eliminate,’ which could be misinterpreted as something very absolute. You are not always able to completely eliminate a hazard,” said Russell Hayward, CIH, who represents AIHA at meetings of U.S. TAG members. Hayward, the managing director of Scientific and Technical Initiatives on AIHA’s staff, said that the U.S. TAG suggested alternate wording that refers to processes that proactively identify hazards and assess risks and opportunities by anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, controlling, and confirming protection from identified hazards and risks through the hierarchy of controls.

The U.S. TAG also commented that the standard’s requirements about outsourcing and contracting are conflicting and confusing, and may be interpreted as redundant. A user of the standard will likely have difficulty discerning the literal meaning of these requirements, Hayward said. The TAG is seeking a clearer definition for outsourcing.

ISO 45001 is a voluntary international standard that provides a framework for improving employee health and safety, reducing workplace risks, and creating better, safer working conditions around the world. According to the ISO website, the standard’s structure is similar to other ISO management systems such as ISO 14001, Environmental management systems – Requirements with guidance for use, and ISO 9001, Quality management. The requirements in ISO 45001 are drawn from current occupational health and safety management system standards such as OHSAS 18001 and ANSI/ASSE Z10.

Like 18001 and Z10, ISO 45001 applies the “Plan, Do, Check, Act” concept, an iterative process often used as a means to achieve continual improvement of business processes.

The U.S. TAG favors maintaining Z10 even after publication of ISO 45001, Hayward said. According to Hayward, the British Standards Institution, which developed OHSAS 18001, is evaluating whether to withdraw its standard once ISO 45001 is final.

At the September PC meeting, the U.S. will be represented by Vic Toy, CIH, CSP, FAIHA; Kathy Seabrook, CSP, CFIOSH, EurOSHM; and Jim Howe, CSP. PC representatives will attempt to resolve remaining disagreements about the standard’s requirements. If all comments are addressed satisfactorily, the standard could be published as early as December.