Fifteen years ago I reported on the prosecution of a UK manufacturer after a diesel storage tank leaked thousands of litres of hydrocarbons into the surface drains at one of its plants. The tank, which was in plain sight at the works, had no bund to contain spills.
The site had been recertified to the ISO 14001 environmental management standard only months before the leak.
The incident seemed to support the common criticism of management systems standards certification, that it was possible to be accredited just for having a system, even if it did not bear much relation to day-to-day management.
The experts in our roundtable discussion on the ISO 45001 OSH standard suggest that the new specification will make it hard for an organisation to gain certification just by showing the right documents.
Auditors to the new global standard will be looking for evidence that intention is translated into action, they argue, and are likely to quiz a cross-section of those who can verify the quality of the OSH culture, from the shop floor to the boardroom, from the organisation’s component suppliers to its window cleaners.
Our roundtable pundits go further and suggest that, to be assured of accreditation, an organisation should have OSH concerns running through its plans and operations like letters through a stick of seaside rock.
That’s a hard ask for hard-pressed safety and health managers tasked with gaining the ISO 45001 imprimatur by their directors because it will be a prequalification hurdle for winning contracts.
They may be more concerned to be able to show what a recent article in these pages reminded us software engineers call a “minimum viable product”. They will be content with a system that meets the standard’s requirements on matters such as leadership, workforce involvement and contractor management, even if it does not stretch to the full hearts-and-minds implementation.
But it seems that even a pragmatic approach to ISO 45001 will require more work outside the OSH function than its predecessor BS OHSAS 18001. If auditors are not going to be content to interview just one tame member of senior management about safety leadership and if they want evidence of well-embedded employee involvement arrangements from those at the sharp end, organisations will have to prepare early and prepare well. Persuading directors to do safety tours or launching a new programme of safety improvement teams or toolbox talks months before the audit is probably not going to cut it.
If an OSH practitioner asked to go for certification thinks their organisation falls short, they should be ready to reflect back to the executive board what they will need in time and commitment to reach the standard.