What impact will the introduction of ISO 45001 have on health and safety in the workplace?

Nikki Samme, director of our certification body Alcumus ISOQAR, reflects on how far we have come over the last couple of decades - and what the future might hold.

19th Mar 2018

It’s not every day that a new ISO standard is released. So it’s easy to see why the launch of ISO 45001 has created a ripple of excitement in the certification industry.

Finally, we have a truly international standard for occupational health and safety management systems.

Those of us who have been in this business for longer than we’d care to remember have seen the benefits that the new standard’s predecessor, BS OHSAS 18001, has brought to workplaces across the UK.

Back in 1999, when OHSAS 18001 was launched, there were 622 fatal injuries in UK workplaces that year. The latest HSE statistics show that there were 137 workers killed in 2016/17. Still too high but without doubt a remarkable and welcome decline.

How much of this improvement in occupational health and safety can we attribute to OHSAS 18001? Will ISO 45001 be able to continue the trend?

It goes without saying that merely implementing a rigorous set of procedures will not in itself bring about such change. What we have seen - I and my colleagues have observed this over the years - is a transformation in management culture with directors accepting their responsibility to protect the welfare of workers.

New generations of workers don't know any different. They've spent their whole careers working in environments where health and safety is the top priority. Everything from ensuring your chair has proper lumbar support to sophisticated control mechanisms for hazardous substances is second nature. Health and safety for many is front of mind and top of the agenda in many boardrooms.

But not for everybody.

Whether it’s the carrot or the stick that has brought about the improvements remains open to debate. Clearly huge fines and custodial sentences in recent years have played their part in encouraging those at the top of the industry to sit up and take notice.

What will be the impact of replacing OHSAS 18001 with ISO 45001? I’ll be writing more on the technical differences between the two standards soon. But it may be that it’s the kick up the backside brought about by the introduction of the standard itself, rather than the ins and outs of the nuanced differences between the standards, that has the most significant impact.

For now, let’s hope that the fanfare surrounding the introduction of 45001 rings loud in the ears of those who are yet to buy into workplace health and safety management systems.