On March 12, 2018, the time had come: ISO 45001, the new standard for occupational safety and health (OHS), was published. After five years of development, an ISO standard is now available that meets the international requirements for modern occupational health and safety. In this article, our expert explains the advantages of an OHS management system.


Today's understanding of occupational safety and health requires a holistic management approach. This includes the following measures:

  • All measures to avert work-related hazards and illnesses
  • Measures for safe and healthy workplace design
  • Measures for physical, mental and social health


Why a new standard for an OHS management system?

ISO 45001 sets an internationally recognized standard for occupational safety and health (OHS). Back in 2013, ISO (International Organization for Standardization) decided to develop its own standard based on the common basic structure (HLS) of management system standards. The revisions of ISO 9001 (quality) and ISO 14001 (environment) thus necessitated a not inconsiderable adaptation of the British standard BS OHSAS 18001. The intention behind this: the full integration of OHS aspects into an existing management system.

The requirements that the new standard for an OHS management system should contain in detail were discussed at length in the relevant committees. After all, none of the major ISO standard topics has as many interested parties with quite conflicting expectations and needs as health and safety. This is an area where life or death is at stake - and a great deal of money is at stake worldwide.

"2.78 million deaths per year, or more than 7,600 per day - combined with the approximately 375 million non-fatal occupational injuries, they cost the world nearly 3 trillion. US dollars."

German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) 2017, data from 1960 to 2016 incl.

For comparison, the gross domestic product (GDP) in Germany was around 3.47 trillion US dollars in 2016.

ISO 45001 - What are the new features?

The "old" BS OHSAS 18001 was a thoroughly successful standard that set standards in occupational health and safety at the time of its publication in 1999. Proven requirements were therefore adopted by ISO. In addition, elements of occupational health management (OHM) have been incorporated into the new OHS management system.

"The implementation of an occupational safety and health management system should enable an organization to provide safe and healthy workplaces, prevent work-related injuries and illnesses, and continuously improve its OHS performance."

Source: ISO 45001:2018 - Occupational health and safety management systems - Requirements with guidance for use.

ISO 45001 clearly elevates occupational safety and health to the status of a strategically important management issue, providing a suitable framework for its continuous improvement. At the heart of an OHS management system is one of the most important interested parties of any company or organization: your employees.

What is fundamentally new, however, is that ISO 45001, unlike BS OHSAS 18001, focuses on an organization's interaction with its business environment. The British standard, on the other hand, focuses directly and in some ways in isolation on the management of occupational health and safety hazards.


What are the benefits of the new basic structure?

Like all modern management system standards, ISO 45001 follows the common basic structure (High Level Structure - HLS) with core texts, terms and definitions. This means that, for the first time, all OHS aspects can now be fully integrated into an existing management system, for example ISO 9001 or ISO 14001.

Common themes include the context of the organization, clear management responsibility, and the risk-based approach. The specific requirements focus on aspects of work policy, hazard identification, risk management, emergency planning and preparedness, and place legal issues in the foreground.

A noticeably positive effect will be felt from the fact that, with the new standard for an SGA management system, each individual employee will be actively and responsibly involved in the management system with regard to his or her working environment and the respective interfaces. At the same time, top management has the central task and responsibility of ensuring that employees are empowered to do so. What's more, with regard to occupational safety and health (OSH), the level of detail, with 13 requirements for top management, even exceeds ISO 9001.


For whom is an OHS management system important?

The answer is simple: for any organization that employs people. The systematic approach to health and safety is always beneficial.

So it doesn't matter what industry a company is in or whether it is a small, medium-sized business or a major international corporation, a non-profit organization or a local government. Employees should always be able to be sure of a secure job. This is not only good for their health, it is also an essential basis for motivated and effective work.


What are the advantages of an OHS management system?

Despite strict occupational health and safety laws in Germany: An OHS management system in accordance with ISO 45001 promotes the integration of occupational health and safety aspects into corporate processes. In this way, deficits can be systematically uncovered and the preventive approach, related to physical and mental stress, can be strengthened.

Keyword "occupational health and safety and compliance": With the fulfillment of the standard requirements, companies receive a new level of legal certainty - at least when it comes to compliance with legal obligations and official requirements. This significantly reduces the liability risk. The new legal certainty is also closely related to the fulfillment of the central requirement of identifying the relevant interested parties along with their needs and requirements. A first in the field of health and safety.

Or keyword "competitive advantage": An ISO 45001 certified company appears as a particularly attractive employer. It therefore has a significant advantage when it comes to recruiting suitable employees in times of chronic shortage of skilled workers. And even in the area of so-called "simpler" activities, it will be easier for a company that can demonstrate an OHS management system to the outside world and thus inspire confidence to fill vacant positions with suitable personnel.


The advantages at a glance

However, an OHS management system offers companies many other, quite serious advantages:

  • Increased safety awareness among employees
  • Lower rates of illness and accidents
  • Fewer lost work days and the costs caused by business interruptions
  • Higher employee satisfaction and motivation
  • Increased legal certainty and relief for managers in the performance of their operator duties
  • Improved corporate image and competitive advantages


ISO 45001 VS. BS OHSAS 18001 - Key differences


ISO 45001:

  • Is process oriented
  • Considers both risks and opportunities
  • Considers interested parties
  • Can be fully integrated into existing management systems

BS OHSAS 18001 (superseded):

  • Is process oriented
  • Only considers risks
  • Ignores interested parties
  • Is not compatible with the High Level Structure

Important to know: On September 30, 2021, the British standard BS OHSAS 18001, which has been relevant for occupational health and safety management for over 20 years, was replaced by ISO 45001. All certificates according to BS OHSAS 18001 have lost their validity.

Similar to previous revisions, a three-year transition period was set for the changeover. It was initially scheduled to end on March 11, 2021, but was extended by six months by the IAF due to the Covid 19 pandemic.


Implementing an OHS management system

The effort a company needs to put in to become ISO 45001 certified is based on the prerequisites it brings to the table. The following scenarios are possible:

A management system already exists according to quality (ISO 9001) and/or environment (ISO 14001) that follows the so-called High Level Structure (HLS) and thus has the same basic structure as the OHS standard. This significantly simplifies the integration of the OHS aspects. Above all, the environmental standard ISO 14001 shows great similarities with the requirements of ISO 45001, especially in those requirements that deal with the implementation of processes - and there are several of these.

Those who have not yet introduced a management system in accordance with an ISO standard are starting from scratch. The effort required for a fully comprehensive OHS management system is correspondingly greater.

What needs to be done?


  • Identify the organizational and content delta between your existing management system, if any, and the requirements of the new OHS standard.
  • Identify relevant interested parties and internal and external issues that may impact your organization's activity. The key question here: How can risks resulting from the influence of internal and external issues be managed or controlled using the OHS management system?
  • Make the changeover your project with an implementation plan.
  • Define the scope of the OHS management system, taking into account your objectives. Determine measures for implementation.
  • Update your existing management system according to OHS requirements.
  • Consider appropriate training and awareness for all stakeholders with an impact on the effectiveness of the system, especially your internal auditors.
  • Verify the effectiveness of the implemented measures, usually through internal audits and subsequent management review.


DQS. What you can expect from us

The new OHS requirements provide a recommended course of action to make occupational health and safety management more sustainable.

We can assess whether your OHS management system already takes all new standard aspects into account in a gap analysis (delta audit). In this way, you can identify any need for action and are protected from surprises in the certification audit. Delta audits can be performed at any time and independently of regularly scheduled certification audits.

Initial certification takes place in a two-stage process:

  • On-site readiness assessment (stage 1 audit): including review of the internal project plan for transition to the new standard and evaluation of the completed changes to the management system.
  • On-site system audit (stage 2 audit): assessment of the implementation and effectiveness of your management system.

For an integrated management system, a combined certification with other management standards is an option. Cross-thematic certification allows to exploit synergies and at the same time to identify interactions but also contradictions between the different topics. DQS is accredited by the German Accreditation Body (DAkkS), as well as others.

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Expertise and trust

Our articles and whitepapers are written exclusively by internal standards experts and long-standing auditors for management systems. So if you have any questions about the content and our audits, please feel free to contact us.

Altan Dayankac

DQS product manager and expert on numerous sustainability, climate, environmental and occupational safety topics. Altan Dayankac also contributes his expertise as an author and presenter on environmental and occupational health and safety committees and at numerous professional events.

<p>DQS-Normexperte f&uuml;r Umweltmanagement und Arbeitssicherheit</p>