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ISO 45001 Update

ISO 45001 is a safety management system standard that is meant to be a global replacement for similar standards such as the BS OHSAS 18001 and ILO-OSH 2001.  It clearly takes some cues from the ISO 31000, guidelines on risk management.  You may wonder why it’s needed given the popularity of OHSAS 18001.

In the fast and furious world that is ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation), protocol is followed. An initial draft is produced and published, which is supposed to stimulate public debate.  It’s called a DIS (Draft International Standard).  And DIS ISO 45001 has been out for a while (since January 2016) and has stimulated debate.  Whilst it was generally accepted (around 70% of the voters on the committee). It’s ultimately been rejected because a significant minority didn’t like what they saw.  That’s committee rules for you.  This means we’re unlikely to see ISO 45001 until early 2017, as they work through the thousands of suggested amendments.


But currently, all we’ve got to go on, in terms of basic shape and content, is the ISO DIS.  This standard follows the newer management system standard structure.  This is unlikely to change as there is a view that consistency and integration is useful.  They all have 7 core topic areas (Chapters): Context of the organisation, Leadership and worker participation, Planning, Support, Operation, Performance Evaluation, and Finally Improvement.

The definition used in OHSAS 18001 and ILO-OSH 2001 is of course that familiar to safety professionals – traditionally phrased in terms of likelihood and severity of something bad happening.  It’s focus is on the negative.  ISO 45001, taking its cue from ISO 31000. Firstly a rather alien version of the definition as “the effect of uncertainty”.

This brings in the idea of positive and negative, which is a wider business meaning. Health and safety professionals everywhere can find that alien, because they are brought up on the negative. But regardless of how it is defined, the idea of positively taking risks is a good and healthy one.  At the very least it stops you from being too risk averse.  Being too risk averse means you miss opportunities.

The idea of taking risks is certainly not alien to society. We regularly take on higher levels of risk which, although we’re not entirely happy with. We tolerate because we see there are benefits worth having for society as a whole. For example: cars, oil exploration and refining, chemical and pharmaceutical manufacture.

Dr David Towlson