NSCA Foundation

Putting workplace health and safety front of mind

Standards Australia

By Catherine Dunkerley*
Friday, 30 November, 2018

Putting workplace health and safety front of mind

After months of speculation and multiple rounds of stakeholder discussion, the much anticipated ISO 45001 has been adopted as a joint Australian and New Zealand standard. The project committee of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has been working for some years, with significant contribution from Australian experts, to deliver a standard aimed at assisting organisations to manage their workplace health and safety challenges.

In the world of international standards there are none bigger, or more talked about, in the occupational health and safety space at the moment than ISO 45001, Occupational health and safety management systems – Requirements with guidance for use.

Australia’s involvement in this standard stretches back over four years, and has seen a number of Australian experts significantly shape the final published standard in working with their international colleagues.

The Australian adoption

Following extensive stakeholder consultation, the process of adoption of ISO 45001 has been formally accepted as a joint Australia and New Zealand standard. The resulting standard AS/NZS ISO 45001:2018, Occupational health and safety management systems – Requirements with guidance for use was recommended for publication initially by Standards Australia’s Technical Committee responsible for the work. The committee endorsed the publication following broad consultation with a range of stakeholders across government, industry, employee associations and academic institutions. The document was also submitted for a period of public comment.

The Head of the Australian Delegation to the former ISO Project Committee, David Solomon, has been with the process from the start. In commenting on the recent Australian–New Zealand adoption, Solomon welcomed the fact that 17 October 2018 saw the release of AS/NZS ISO 45001:2018, which is an identical adoption of the international standard. The preface and foreword address legal and other requirements specific to the Australian and New Zealand context.

Legislative impact

The new AS/NZS ISO 45001 standard, at the time of writing, has not been cited in Australian legislation. Australian standards have always been drafted as an accepted industry minimum with any legislative impact to be determined by the government of the day. This standard has the potential to be legislated, but is drafted to be easily implemented by organisations of all sizes rather than legislated by governments.

On the potential legislative impact, Solomon said: “We now see safety in everything we do. It is a requirement in NSW state government for procurement when tendering for work. It is very much a part of outsourcing and designers are now accountable for safety more than ever. Everyone has an obligation to take responsibility for their own actions under current WHS legislation. We are fortunate that AS/NZS ISO 45001:2018 is very much aligned with our harmonised legislation. By that I mean we already do much of what the standard requires of us.”

Impact for organisations of every size

The standard follows the same high-level structure as other ISO management system standards to support its implementation such as ISO 9001:2015, Quality management systems — Requirements, ISO 14001:2015, Environmental management systems — Requirements with guidance for use and ISO/IEC 27001:2013, Information technology — Security techniques — Information security management systems — Requirements. It also takes into account other international standards in this area such as OHSAS 18001 and various International Labour Organization’s ILO-OSH Guidelines, standards and conventions.

At a high level, AS/NZS ISO 45001, Occupational health and safety management systems – Requirements with guidance for use provides requirements for the establishment and implementation of an organisational management system to manage occupational health and safety. It outlines the importance for everyone within an organisation to be involved in effectively managing risk of harm, injury or death associated with work.

It has been developed to be applicable to any organisation regardless of its size, type or its activities. It is applicable to the occupational health and safety risks under the organisation’s control, taking into account factors such as the context in which the organisation operates and the needs and expectations of its workers and other interested parties.

Technical changes

As with every standard published, there are highly technical aspects which need to be considered and managed. In the case of this standard, there are changes which shape how an organisation manages health and safety.

One of the changes that has a clear benefit is the inclusion of Annex SL and language used with more emphasis on leadership and management roles and a new risk-based approach.

Solomon states this was an objective of the international standard with integration a key priority given the safety objectives. “ISO 45001 has been designed and developed by an international committee made up of some 160 experts from over 70 nations to address the issue of occupational injuries and promote a safer working environment. ISO 45001 will allow organisations to better manage their occupational health and safety risks and improve their workplace safety performance. All of the requirements of the standard are intended to be integrated into an organisation’s own management processes.”

Difference to AS/NZS 4801:2001

The new ISO 45001, in the Australian context, is often compared to AS/NZS 4801:2001, Occupational health and safety management systems – Specification with guidance for use. There is a key point of different between AS/NZS 4801 and AS/NZS ISO 45001; AS/NZS 4801 is aimed at the processes of workplace health and safety whereas AS/NZS ISO 45001 is a system-based standard. Their similarities, yet prominent differences at some points prove they work hand in hand. Solomon drills down further outlining that AS/NZS/ISO 45001 also covers:

  • continual improvement of the organisation’s OH&S performance
  • leadership and commitment
  • actions to address risks and opportunities
  • safety in design
  • outsourcing
  • procurement
  • contractors
  • evaluation of compliance with legal requirements and other requirements.

Regardless of any differences between these two standards, AS/NZS 4801 remains a heavily referenced standard in legislation across Australia. Given standards are voluntary until legislated, it is vital that organisations remain aware and compliant with their legislative requirements. Ultimately, compliance with the standard does not mean an organisation has met legislative minimums. In the case of AS/NZS ISO 45001, the standard has been drafted for an easier integration into how an organisation manages occupational health and safety rather than being aimed at helping achieve a legislation requirement.

Standards and the management of mental health

The ISO Committee responsible for this standard, ISO TC 283, is looking at standardisation in the field of occupational health and safety management to enable an organisation to control its occupational health and safety risks and improve this performance, including incident reporting and mental health enhancements. Australia is an active participant in the project recently initiated that will develop ISO 45003 – Occupational health and safety management – Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace – Guidelines.

Solomon, who will remain involved with the development of these further standards, states, “ISO has formed a new International Technical Committee TC283 that has been charged with the responsibility of developing the following standards that are in the suite of international standards that ISO 45001 leads:

  •  ISO 45002 Implementation Guidance Standard for the application of ISO 45001
  •  ISO 45003 Psychological Health in the Workplace
  •  ISO 45004 Handbook for SMEs

What next?

The publication of this standard is now complete in Australia and New Zealand and organisations can decide whether to implement this internationally supported document. There will be a transition period of three years so businesses can make the transition over time and do so without compromising workplace safety.

This is a standard intended to place workplace safety in the front of everyone’s mind, and for this simple yet significant achievement Standards Australia is proud to be involved from the start and to have now delivered a successful project for the Australian community.

*Catherine Dunkerley is the Senior Stakeholder Engagement Manager at Standards Australia. Catherine started with Standards Australia in 2017 as the Stakeholder Engagement Manager responsible for the Standards Portfolio covering Public Safety, Public Administration, Business and Management, and Health and Community Services where she currently works with a wide variety of stakeholders.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Thongsuk

NSCA Foundation is a member based, non-profit organisation working together with members to improve workplace health and safety throughout Australia. For more information and membership details click here
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