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OHS Systems - Why on earth do we need them?

By Linda Jackson on 28 November 2016

If you read our article on the documentation you (should) have enough in place to demonstrate due diligence and compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and you might be wondering why on earth would you need to do anything more about health and safety given that very long list.  

But that is the point – it is just a list. Many safety files are just about ticking boxes and filling in the necessary checklists and less about proactive management of workplace health and safety according as an integral part of business strategy with specific measurable objectives.

Why use OHSAS 18001 / ISO 45001?

Using a voluntary standard like OSHAS 18001 or ISO 45001 as it is soon to be called can provide this management framework.

We all know the saying: “Our people are our most valuable asset”. Any situation in a company that can impact on their health and safety is therefore a significant business risk that should be managed in order for your business to survive and to thrive. According to , apart from the devastating impact on people, poor OHS management can have many other negative effects on organizations, such as the loss of key employees, business interruption, claims, insurance premiums, regulatory action, reputational damage, loss of investors and ultimately, the loss of business.

Simply implementing the minimum legal requirements has its place, but as responsible employers should we not be doing everything we can to protect our most valuable assets?

5 reasons to improve your OHS systems

Here are the 5 most important reasons why you should consider taking your  OHS management system to the next level.


1. A common approach to risk management

ISO 45001 follows a simple Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) model, which provides a framework for organizations to plan what they need to put in place to minimize the risk of harm. This model is used by all the ISO management systems standards. With the revisions of ISO 14001 and ISO 9001 all the standards now follow the same clause structure and use the same terminology.  Using this standard can therefore assist in creating and strengthening a common approach to risk management within the company.


2. Break down silos and reduce documentation

Most companies have someone responsible for quality and food safety and another person responsible for occupational health and safety. Therefore, it is highly likely there were will be duplication of efforts and documentation, not to mention contradictions in the management systems.

Examples I have seen include:

  • The handwash basin at the top of a steep flight of stairs – how do we get down safely after washing and sanitising our hands?
  • Arguments about safety gear – boots or safety shoes in a wet area?

And so, the list goes on. Why not form a team to tackle all these risks based issues and make sure we only do things once – that would be the smarter way of managing compliance?


3. Integrate into a workable system at shopfloor

You will probably have work instructions for how to operate a piece of equipment safely, often called safe work procedures by the H&S people. The food safety people probably have a work instruction for the same piece of equipment only from a food safe perspective. We are setting ourselves up for failure in this approach. It’s hard enough to get an operator to use one set of instructions never mind two. Combine them and use lots of pictures and you may have a chance at success.


4. Make it a top management problem

The ISO 45001 standard requires that top management take ownership and demonstrate commitment through leadership to ensure that workers have the appropriate skills and that effective controls are put in place in the “Do” phase. It recognizes the value of worker involvement and worker consultations to develop and apply better OHS practices. The “Check” phase identifies all the key elements that should be addressed to ensure the system is working, and determines opportunities for improvement in the “Act” phase. As the OSH Act reminds us, top management are ultimately accountable. The standard supports this.


5. Customers will be asking awkward questions

According to  as globalization escalates, more consumers and customers expect organizations to be ethical in every aspect of their business, including the way they treat their employees. In recent years, the media has exposed many organizations’ malpractices, leading to a significant negative impact on their brands and the loss of confidence in their business. More and more companies also want detailed information about their suppliers’ occupational health and safety practices to protect their brands. This motivates suppliers to implement better and internationally recognized systems to establish good health and safety practices. Third party certification helps to demonstrate that a business is meeting its requirements effectively whilst the process of achieving and maintaining certification helps ensure that it is continually improving across all areas of the organization.

So, the bottom line, the purpose of ISO 45001 is to help organizations to manage and control their occupational health and safety risks and to improve their occupational health and safety performance. They can achieve this purpose by developing an occupational health and safety management system that complies with the standard. But…the standard does not dictate the level of performance and herein is the concern about the standard. It is also a voluntary standard that is intended to support legal compliance not take away from it but certification does not imply legal compliance.

According to www.  unions are concerned that certification and auditing will not look at the levels of protection given to workers and the public, or at the record of the organisation, but instead at the administrative systems that are in place. If they meet the requirements of the standard, then employers will think that is sufficient. A recommendation is to involve employees and unions from the start of the implementation.


“Trade unions want strong regulations and strong enforcement, not voluntary standards that are developed for commercial reasons by people who want to be able to make money from auditing or certifying the standard”.