Transitioning to AS/NZS ISO 45001: Is it worth the effort?

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Wednesday, 5 May, 2021 - 12:00
Industry news
National News

Implementation of an OHS Management System (OHSMS) in line with an internationally recognised standard can contribute to legislative compliance through systematic elimination or minimisation of known risks, according to Nektarios Karanikas, a professor in health, safety and environment at the Queensland University of Technology.

The ISO 45001:2018 standard adopts a principles-based approach to OHSMS by focusing on guidelines and not providing specific details about the implementation of its provisions, he explained.

“Each organisation must determine its specifics based on its internal and external hazards, risks and opportunities, and the resources available,” said Karanikas, who was speaking ahead of an AIHS webinar, Transitioning to AS/NZS ISO 45001: Is it worth the effort? which will be held on Wednesday 2 June from 2:3-3:30pm.

“This, on the one hand, allows greater flexibility but, on the other hand, could introduce more uncertainty around compliance for both duty holders and government inspectors.”

Furthermore, although the new standard is designed to be scalable to any organisation regardless of its size, Karanikas said small organisations may find it challenging to implement as those enterprises might prefer a more prescriptive document.

Similarly, he noted the ISO 45001:2018 standard requires a more significant commitment and involvement from top management, who may be reluctant to invest the effort and resources required to achieve the new standard’s requirements.

“Also, ensuring staff competency may be a considerable challenge for many organisations looking to implement the new standard,” he said.

“As all individuals are expected to demonstrate continual contributions to improvements, workers may show resistance to their increased responsibilities for OHS.

“Additionally, under a risk-based OHSMS, executives may be required to follow a series of systematic protocols to develop, monitor and update the system.”

Karanikas observed such a highly organised approach might generate increased bureaucracy and documentation and could be a considerable barrier for organisations considering adopting ISO 45001:2018.

As ISO 45001:2018 requires organisations to implement a risk-based management system to control and respond to workplace hazards proactively, Karanikas also noted organisations must appropriately implement a continually updated risk management plan to ensure the business achieves optimum performance.

“In the new standard, risk management is coupled with the need for a comprehensive understanding of the organisational context, including internal culture and values, during the planning and implementation phases,” he said.

“From a broader perspective, when comparing ISO 45001:2018 with its predecessor AS/NZS 4801:2001, someone will identify seven areas that are newly introduced or have become more explicit or extensive in the new standard: organisational context, management commitment and leadership, worker participation and engagement, staff development, integrated risk-based management, continual improvement and culture.”

Several publications confirm those areas are necessary and influential for an effective OHSMS, with many studies presenting those areas as central OHSMS enablers when applied concurrently, he noted.

Karanikas said the full and effective implementation of ISO 45001:2018 requires responsibility and commitment from managers and workers, resources such as staff and funding, review of legal requirements, internal audits and other initiatives to ensure the OHSMS policies are enacted.

Although logical and simple on paper, he said the need for high-quality contribution and workforce engagement necessitates capital investment, which may not be practicable for small and medium enterprises.

“Overall, organisations may be required to invest a substantial amount of capital initially, and they must budget for ongoing maintenance costs,” he said.

“On the positive side, the expected benefits of 45001 are the ability of the OHSMS to be integrated with other management systems; adoption of current best practice to support legislative compliance; operationalisation of the moral obligation to ensure an environment that promotes OHS; international recognition; and pathways to conduct business with other organisations globally.”

For organisations, Karanikas said the choice to adopt the new standard relies more on management’s commitment to OHS by adopting industry best-practice.

“Indeed, an OHSMS standard is not the only and definitive path to demonstrate due diligence and reasonable care of workers’ health and safety. Still, ISO 45001:2018 represents a collection of elements an organisation could implement to support its moral and legislative obligations and improve OHS,” he said.

While contemplating adopting the newest standard, Karanikas said OHS professionals must support businesses with assessing the investment required, the possible challenges within their context and the promised benefits.

“Nonetheless, the consideration of what ISO 45001:2018 suggests does not have to be only for certification purposes, and each organisation might not initially move to implement the standard entirely,” he said.

Instead, subject to what OHSMS elements each business already operates, Karanikas said OHS professionals can start with the ISO 45001:2018 provisions currently missing from or under-represented in their OHSMS.

“They can experiment with each necessary change in a stepwise approach, assess the outcomes of each change, and gradually move to the full implementation of the new standard and, possibly, gaining certification,” he said.

Karanikas will be speaking at an AIHS webinar, Transitioning to AS/NZS ISO 45001: Is it worth the effort? which will be held on Wednesday 2 June from 2:3-3:30pm. For more information contact the Australian Institute of Health & Safety on (03) 8336 1995 or email or visit the event website.