ISO 45001 (Occupational Health & Safety) – Could it Lead to more Stringent Provisions Around Legal Compliance?

It was announced this summer (in June 2016) that the publication of the much-anticipated ISO 45001 Management System Standard for Occupational Safety & Health is to be delayed by at least a year. Initially, the plan had been for the standard to be available from October 2016.

However, the participating members of the ISO committee did not approve the first Draft International Standard (DIS), and according to ISO, a publication date of December 2017 is now expected.

A second draft standard is currently being worked on. The delay was caused after the first Draft International Standard received more than 3,000 comments that had to be dealt with.

A lot has been written and spoken about the new standard. The main, broad aspects of the new standard are of course:

  • Its alignment with the common ISO Management System structure – to allow better integration with, for example, ISO 14001 and 9001 (Annex SL).
  • The fact that it will replace OHSAS 18001 as the primary international standard on H&S; and
  • How it will take into account the International Labor Organization’s ILO-OSH Guidelines, various national standards and the ILO’s international labor standards and conventions

However, one of the more specific points of interest revolves around how ISO 45001 will address the issue of compliance with “legal and other requirements” under the ISO general rules.

In its Briefing note on ISO 45001, ISO identifies the following benefits (specifically related to legal compliance) that using ISO 45001 will bring to organizations:

  • Enable the establishing of operational controls to manage its OH&S risks and legal and other requirements; and, more generally
  • Improve its ability to respond to regulatory compliance issues

The current section 4.3.2 of OHSAS 18001 is entitled simply “Legal and other requirements”, whereas the proposed new Section 6.1.3 would be called “Determination of applicable legal requirements and other requirements”.

There was concern in several comments submitted to ISO that the proposed new wording would have weakened these provisions and created unnecessary ambiguity. Various organizations, such as the International Trade Union Confederation, were keen to point this out:

“We believe that the public will expect that certification to this management system means the company is respecting all applicable laws”

Given the above, it will be relevant to all those companies implementing ISO 45001 that ISO may move to remove ambiguity and look to strengthen the wording around compliance with legal requirements. It is likely to mean that the need for companies to have a robust, on-going and up-to-date legal compliance management tool (not just a “legal register”) will become even more important.

If you are interested in developing an occupational safety and health program based on the ISO 45001 standard please give us a call.

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