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ISO 45001: Key Points Every Safety Professional Should Know

By Chris Ward
Published: August 27, 2020
Key Takeaways

ISO 45001 provides important guidance for your organization's OHS management system.

Caption: Factory Floor Source: SeventyFour / iStock

In the current COVID environment, every aspect of our behavior and decision-making processes has been thrown into disarray. Businesses and organizations are seeking certainty and can find it in the bedrock of ISO Standards.

(Find out How to Manage COVID-19 in Your Workplace)

These standards provide the basis for future planning and a roadmap to implementing applied practices that meet internationally recognized standards and norms.


How ISO 45001 Was Established

The ISO 45001 standard was published in 2018.

It followed ISO 9001 for quality and 14001 for environment. After the success of those standards, there was a recognized need for a similar benchmarking governance for occupational health and safety management systems to cover the whole of organizational activities.

Some businesses implemented USA Z10 or OHSAS 18001 while others followed national or sector standard models.

The need for a unified and universal standard was the subject of a protracted and detailed consultation between national and international bodies. The convened forum held detailed and frequent negotiations about the commonly agreed practices that could be accepted, implemented, and verified.

In addition, there was an aspirational aspect to the Standard that sought to extend the notions of context, leadership, and consultation, such that businesses cannot function in isolation from, or indifference to the wider society in which they operate.

ISO 45001 was designed to meet these ambitious needs.

The Purpose of the Standard

The aim of ISO 45001 is to create an integrated management system throughout an organization.

With such a system, each organization can improve its OHS performance and prevent work-related injury or health complications. By employing preventative and protective measures, organizations can eliminate or minimize their health and safety risks.

Can It Work?

OHS systems based on ISO can work. However, it requires strategic and operational decisions taken by an organization.


In other words, it requires leadership, commitment, and participation at all levels of an organization.

There must be planning that takes into account how the business operates globally, regionally, and culturally. There must be consultation with workers and their representatives, as well as interested external parties. There must be documented records and monitoring for practice and performance, with an eye to continual improvement. Company leaders must also promote a culture of safety and well-being.

All of these activities must be audited and verified to ensure compliance with the ISO 45001 standard.

Specific Areas of Guidance offered by the Standard

Context (Clause 4)

ISO 45001 takes the organization's context into account. In other words, how it might be affected by internal and external factors.

Organizations need to be flexible in order to accommodate various types of change, whether they be cultural, social, political, legal, financial, technological, environmental, or market-driven.

Managing the needs and expectations of workers and interested parties is a major function of understanding the environment in which the business operates. This forms a framework for the nature and scope of its OHS management system.

Leadership and Worker Participation (Clause 5)

The role of leadership is to actively promote, encourage, and develop the OHS management system that provides guidance and establishes safety-positive values.

This is done through consultation and the implementation of systems geared to minimizing hazards and risks, while promoting a culture of safety.

The emphasis of the standard is on the responsibility and accountability of top management. This is achieved through the creation of an OHS policy and implemented through a robust OHS management system.

While operational roles, responsibilities, and authority may be delegated for functional reasons, ultimate responsibility still lies with top management.

(See Are You a Safety Manager or a Safety Leader? for related reading)

Planning (Clause 6)

Organizations must identify the hazards its activities prevent and make sure these are addressed in compliance with legal and other requirements. These systems must also be documented and updated to reflect any changes.

The hierarchy of hazard controls should be used to evaluate risks. OHS objectives should be formulated in accordance with the assessment and the OHS management systems should be structured to reflect the hazards found in the workplace.

Support (Clause 7)

The organization should supply all resources required to establish, maintain, and continually improve the OHS management system. These resources include, for instance, training workers in hazard identification and risk avoidance.

All forms of communication should be in compliance with legal and other requirements. They should be stored on appropriate systems that allow them to be easily retrieved for audit, update, or verification. This includes all types of digital information, including media, photographs, and audio recordings.

(Learn about Using Rich Media to Enhance EHS Reporting)

Operation (Clause 8)

This section of the standard covers the organization's operating criteria. It also deals with workplaces with multiple employers and how they can coordinate relevant parts of the OHS management system with other organizations.

Performance Evaluation (Clause 9)

Organizations must evaluate the performance of their safety management systems and measure their progress toward achieving their OHS objectives.

This should take the form of recorded and stored documentation, with suitable retrieval systems. These records should be maintained and updated on a regular basis.

These documents should provide a clear audit trail and can be used to verify compliance with the standard.

Improvement (Clause 10)

Organizations should always be looking for opportunities to improve their OHS performance.

In the event of incidents or non-conformities, they should react promptly, correct the situation, and deal with any possible consequences. An evaluation of the event should follow to remedy underlying causes and failures in the system.

The risks associated with new processes or systems should be assessed prior to their introduction.


ISO 45001 gives comprehensive and detailed guidance for implementing an OHS management system that emphasizes the continual need for improvement.

It provides guidance that safety professionals and generalists can readily access and understand, allowing them to make informed decisions and give better recommendations.

The standard is essential when assessing outsourcing, procurement, contractors, and subcontractors. With a growing emphasis on shortening supply chains to ensure security and certainty in national markets, organizations commissioning goods or services would do well to ensure those they work with are in compliance with ISO 45001.


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Written by Chris Ward | director

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Chris is an ex UK Health Safety Executive (HSE) Principal Inspector (37 years). An expert on inspection, accident investigation and health safety management systems.
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