Originally published on LinkedIn: Going From OHSAS 18001 to ISO 45001

It has been a year since the new International Organization for Standardization (ISO) safety standard was released. The ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems standard is replacing the OHSAS 18001 Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series. ISO 45001 does draw upon OHSAS 18001, but is a distinct standard and not simply a revision. Companies will need to update their existing system to comply with the new standard, and have until March 2021 to do so.

Historically, safety programs have been mostly reactive and implemented based on incident investigations or enforcement. New safety management systems (SMSs) use an integrated and proactive approach. The overall aim of ISO 45001 remains the same as OHSAS 18001: to reduce risk and ensure the safety and well-being of everyone. An effective SMS will reduce accidents and injuries, result in cost savings (on many levels), improve public relations and create efficiencies with documentation.

For those of us who are ALL about policy, the release of this new ISO standard was a major milestone. We have long awaited the infrastructure to be able to integrate safety, quality, and environmental management systems. Working in places where environment and safety professionals collaborate as a team, you start to observe the synergies that exist between safety and environment. For example, I was once part of an incident investigation into a battery explosion where battery acid exploded in someone’s face (luckily the protective equipment they were wearing shielded them from the acid); then the acid potentially entered the surrounding waterway which happened to be a drinking water supply. If you have ever been part of an incident investigation, you know that all factors relating to safety, health and the environment are considered, and regulations – such as the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) standard, the Transportation of Dangerous Goods (TDG) regulations, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), and Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation – begin to intertwine.

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The ISO High Level Structure

The ISO standards now use the ISO High Level Structure (HLS). The new HLS approach provides identical structure, text, as well as common terms and definitions for management systems of the future. This allows a simpler process for streamlining ISO management systems. The HLS uses core text that will be present in every management system; contextualized text is then added depending on the standard. Typical managements systems include:

  • ISO 14001 (Environment Management Systems);
  • ISO 9001 (Quality Management Systems); and
  • ISO 45001 (Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems).

This new integrated management systemapproach is something we are excited about at EnTec Environmental Consulting. A fully integrated management system will create efficiencies in your documentation, reduce your certification cost, and streamline your processes.

I’m sure for some, just the thought of having to overhaul your current SMS is a nightmare. The good news is, if you currently have a system based on the OHSAS standard, then you already have the building blocks in place to develop an ISO 45001 SMS. The new ISO standard does come with some changes, however. It factors in the ISO philosophy of continual improvement. The main practical concern is going to be with your documentation – you are going to need a plan in place to migrate from OHSAS to ISO.

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Gap Closure

The best way to address deficiencies in your management system is with a gap closure plan. You will need to evaluate your current system, identify the deficiencies, and come up with a plan to address them. A solid gap closure plan should take you about one year to implement.

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Commitment from Top Management Can Create a Positive Safety Culture

Companies have a moral, legal and financial responsibility to provide a safe workplace, safe equipment, easily accessible standard operation procedures, training, and supervision to its employees. The safety-related efforts of most organizations are largely program-based rather than system-based, and employee knowledge of the management system is low. In order for a SMS to be effective, you need buy-in from the top that trickles down to staff through education and awareness. Enthusiasm acts as a catalyst to create safety awareness and motivation, and should be expressed from top management.Supervisors should set an example to others by self-enforcing safety practices. This will create a chain reaction to increase and maintain proactive approaches safety.

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We are all familiar with organizations that seem to believe safety is a cost rather than an investment. This type of safety culture is detrimental, and ultimately leads to injuries and incidents rather than the control and mitigation of risk. A proper implementation of a SMS helps companies prevent worker injury and death. A positive safety culture can be accomplished by first changing employee behaviour towards their work; change in behaviour can lead to change in attitude over time. Interest can be developed and maintained by demonstrating a positive attitude towards safety – through competitions, prizes, awards, publicity, and incentives.

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Change Starts with Policy

We think that positive change begins with policy. We believe that you can change safety culture through effective policy, education, auditing,and follow-up. There will always be people who are resistant to change; policy addresses this resistance: workers have no choice but to comply with regulations or lose their job. However, it is important to communicate safety policies effectively and in a positive manner through orientation, training programs, and conversation.

We also understand that policy alone is not enough to initiate change. You need buy-in from every level of your organization. Once you have a SMS in place and it has been effectively communicated to all staff, auditing must occur in order to address deficiencies. The ISO standards have a philosophy of continual improvement; with this model, companies can work to increase the effectiveness of their safety practices. Following up to ensure policies are understood and deficiencies have been addressed further strengthens the SMS and culture of safety. In addition, an integrated management system will ensure a robust structure to effectively manage workplace risk and provide policy guidance. Let’s work together to find opportunities to improve safety and to eliminate harm to people and the environment.

This report was a collaboration between:

Lohit Ratnani, M.Tech

Lohit holds a Master of Technology Degree in Health, Safety & Environmental Engineering with a specialization in Disaster Management. He also holds Lead Auditor certifications in ISO 14001 and the new ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems standard. Lohit would love to hear from you, you can send him a LinkedIn message, or he can be reached at 1(647) 557-2635.


Dawn Gough, M.Tech

Dawn is the owner of EnTec Environmental Consulting based in St. John’s, NL. She holds a Master of Technology Management Degree in Engineering and Applied Science Technology and is a certified Lead Auditor for Integrated Management Systems. She would love to hear from you, please message her on LinkedIn, or reach her anytime at 1(709)701-6949.