I is for interested party
The new OSH management systems standard ISO 45001 prefers the term “interested party” to its synonym stakeholder, which might be more familiar to readers. Interested party is defined in ISO 45001 (and in the high-level ISO core management standard, Annex SL) as a “person or organisation that can affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision or activity”.
This reflects the requirement in the UK Health and Safety at Work Act for an employer or self-employed person to protect not just employees, but also “persons not in his employment who may be affected thereby”.
Accidents and ill health can occur because risk assessments have not considered a wide enough scope of interested parties. Contractors fail to consider client staff and vice versa. Construction sites haven’t taken account of children trespassing, or in some cases even of pedestrians walking past. Former Health and Safety Executive principal inspector and OHSAS 18001 BSI committee member Chris Ward suggests a historic example: “Think of those spouses who died as a result of asbestos exposure because they laundered their husbands’ work clothes. Surely they were interested parties?”
Kate Field, global champion for occupational health and safety at BSI, warns organisations with other management standards certification not to make the mistake of “copying across the interested parties from their quality management systems to their health and safety management systems. It’s different for safety and health. Insurers, neighbours and the media can be relevant in a way they are not relevant to quality [certification].”
Insurers, neighbours and the media can be relevant in a way they are not relevant to quality [certification]
Though the legislation refers to those whose safety and health is affected, the term “affect” in ISO 45001 is broader, says Ward, “to include those with a financial or regulatory interest”.
ISO 45001 provides a non-exhaustive list of possible interested parties. This includes external parties, such as legal and regulatory authorities, suppliers, contractors and the local community, and internal parties, such as workers’ representatives and parent organisations. Along with trade unions and employers’ bodies, occupational safety and health organisations (such as IOSH) are also listed as potential interested parties. Less obvious examples include the media and academia. Insurers seem an obvious omission from this list and were added in BS 45002-0: General guidelines for the application of ISO 45001.
The non-exhaustive nature of the list should be noted. ISO 45001 suggests that processes for responding to emergencies should ensure the involvement of interested parties “in the development of the planned response”. Planning how to respond to a security threat or a fire must surely involve the local emergency services and deciding how to react to loss of power or water will necessitate talking to utility companies, yet neither of these is listed in ISO 45001.
“What about a business where staff and customers park on a public road?” Ward asks. “The business has no control over the other traffic using that road, but to what extent should the highway authority be considered an interested party?”
The ISO definition seems circular, including any party that “can affect” or “or perceive itself to be affected by [...] a decision or activity”. Allowing a possible interested party, such as the families of workers or passers-by, to affect a decision (through consultation) makes them an interested party. If you ignore them, but they perceive themselves to be affected, are they an interested party? Ward worries this breadth “could create endless uncertainty for organisations and interested parties”.
Field sees it as less of a problem: “Unless an organisation ignored the health and safety impact on workers, or on customers or contractors where relevant, it wouldn’t fail certification because a particular interested party was left out. As part of continual improvement we might recommend they include extra parties, such as the media, but we understand they have to draw the line somewhere.”
In balancing the needs of so many parties, trade-offs will be necessary, but the aim is first to understand their needs and expectations, then determine which to address.
Whether or not your organisation is pursuing ISO 45001 accreditation, the idea of the interested party is a reminder that we can draw lines around risk. We can’t safeguard our staff at the expense of our service users or customers; we can’t employ contractors to do the dangerous work, and then disregard their safety; we can’t put our workers in vehicles and ignore the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.
Bridget Leathley is a freelance health and safety consultant, providing risk management support in facilities, retail and office environments. She delivers face-to-face safety training including IOSH and bespoke courses, and contributes to e-learning courses through evaluations and design work. She has been writing for health and safety publications since 1996.