OHS Canada Magazine

Towards ISO 45001

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May 13, 2020
By Dylan Short

Health & Safety Human Resources ISO 45001 OHSMS Safety Management

5 ways the standard can advance your safety program

The ISO 45001 standard was released in 2018. (Nirutistock/Getty Images)

Since its much-anticipated release in 2018, much has been written and debated regarding the new ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (OHSMS) standard.

Many leading global companies are adopting the requirements that their supply chain partners to be certified to the standard. But for most of us, the resources required to undertake certification of our OHSMS are beyond our current reach.

While certification may not be in the immediate plan, we can still study ISO 45001 and examine five key areas where we can evolve our current methods for managing safety.

Set the context

The first key element in ISO 45001 is clause 4.1 Understanding the organization and its context.

The organization is required to “determine external and internal issues … that affect the ability to achieve the intended (OH&S) outcomes.” Additionally, the organization is required to “determine the needs and expectations of other interested parties,” otherwise referred to as stakeholders.


Setting the context is a disciplined approach to evaluating all of the sources of impact on achieving the goals of the OHSMS. Proactively exploring the needs and experiences of workers, contractors, procurement and supply chain partners in addition to customers, the community and regulatory authorities, will allow for proactive identification of unaddressed areas in how we manage safety.

Take a risk-based approach

The second element is to take a risk-based approach to managing safety. Risk-based methodology involves a systematic approach to understanding the hazards present or anticipated and objectively assessing their impact on the intended outcomes of the OHSMS.

Taking a risk-based approach ensures the system addresses more than basic compliance requirements.

The process of hazard identification, eliminating hazards and assessing residual risk while applying a hierarchy of controls will deliver results proactively, instead of waiting for an incident to spark an emergency response.

Establish objectives, devise a plan

The next two key elements include having a process for establishing OH&S objectives and establishing a plan to achieve them. The standard requires the organization to “establish OH&S objectives … to maintain and continually improve the OH&S management system and OH&S performance.” (Clause 6.2.1)

The objectives will come from the previously discussed internal and external issues that are identified as hazards and a risk to OH&S performance.

The standard goes on to specify a number of requirements; however, the most helpful describe the process for planning to achieve the chosen objectives by identifying what will be done, what resources will be required, who is responsible, and more.

Like other business processes, the mechanism of establishing an objectively measurable plan to improve safety performance will allow the organization to understand where they currently are and allocate the resources to create the desired change.

Engage leadership

The final key to the success of ISO 45001 is also the area that many safety managers are most apprehensive about — management review of the OHSMS.

Clause 9.3 states: “Top management shall review the organization’s OH&S management system, at planned intervals, to ensure its continuing suitability, adequacy and effectiveness.”

As part of the responsibilities, the leaders who “direct and control an organization” are ultimately accountable for the results of the OHSMS.

To reiterate, most organizations are not in a position to pursue certification to the ISO 45001 standard.

However, we all can evolve our current methods for managing safety in our organizations by adopting its key elements.

Dylan Short is the managing director at The Redlands Group in Oakville, Ont. He is a member of the Canadian Mirror Committee that participated in the development of ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems.

This Safety Management column was originally published in the March/April issue of OHS Canada.


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