Any employee must be able to understand information on occupational health and safety - in emergency situations, this can save lives. ISO 45001 specifies the communication requirements that an occupational health and safety management system must meet. Altan Dayankac, DQS standard expert for occupational health and safety, answers important questions about communication in occupational health and safety.

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ISO 45001 - the standard requires communication

In March 2018, ISO 45001 was published for the first time after five years of development. The intention behind it: To make work noticeably safer with the application of the international standard for "Safety and Health at Work" (OHS). It is intended to enable companies to identify and minimize risks to employees from damage to health, accidents and injuries at an early stage. The organization's internal and external communications play a key role in this.

 

ISO 45001:2018 - Occupational health and safety management systems - Requirements with guidance for use
The standard is available from the ISO website.

To make communication within the OHS management system compliant with the standard, your company must define, implement and maintain an appropriate process. With the help of this communication process, it must above all be determined what is communicated about, when, with whom and how, both internally and externally. An important aspect of this is compliance with legal obligations and consideration of your relevant interested parties. Links to other standards chapters - especially Chapter 8.2 "Emergency Planning and Response" - illustrate where internal and external communications play important roles.

The core requirements for communication are described in Chapter 7.4. Additional requirements on the duty to inform and topics relevant to communication can be found in the following standards chapters:

  • Understanding the organization and its context (4.1).
  • Understanding the needs and expectations of workers and other interested parties (4.2)
  • Leadership and commitment (5.1)
  • Identifying hazards and assessing risks and opportunities (6.1.2)
  • Determining legal and other requirements (6.1.3)
  • Planning action (6.1.4)
  • Emergency preparedness and response (8.2)
  • Compliance evaluation (9.1.2)
  • Incident, nonconformity, and corrective action (10.2)

Occupational health and safety and communication - Key questions and answers

The success of an occupational health and safety management system depends on the leadership, commitment and behavior of all hierarchical levels and functions within a company. Communication also plays an essential role. Andreas Ritter, DQS standards expert and long-time auditor for occupational health and safety, answers important questions about communication in ISO 45001.

What does ISO 45001 mean by communication?

Contrary to expectations, Chapter 3 "Terms" does not provide a definition of "communication". What exactly the standard understands by it only becomes clear in the context of the requirements - and then also very specifically:

"Communication means not only the exchange of information, but also its communication, i.e., the mere sending of information."

Knowing this can be quite helpful for understanding some standard requirements.

So information must arrive reliably, right?

Yes. For example, the wording of the following passage from chapter 7.4 is typical: "The organization shall ensure that the OHS information to be communicated is consistent with the information generated within the OHS management system and that it is reliable." Clearly, this is only about communicating OHS information, not about sharing it.

, "Communicating in OHS does not mean discussing, but conveying and understanding clear messages."

Is there an overriding standard requirement for communication?

The requirement to define, implement and maintain a suitable communication process is certainly fundamental. This includes, in particular, the central determination,

  • About what
  • When
  • With whom and
  • How

is communicated. Interestingly, however, one searches in vain in the occupational health and safety standard for the requirement "who" communicates. Answers to this question can only be found by means of a reverse conclusion, which is completely different from the quality management standard ISO 9001:2015.

Communication in occupational health and safety: Who must communicate?

There is no explicit definition of who communicates in ISO 45001:2018. A reverse conclusion is therefore needed: from the standard requirement to specify "with whom" internal communication is to take place under which circumstances, it follows quasi automatically "who" takes over this task of "sending" in a binding manner.

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Reading tip: Successfully introducing ISO 45001.

You would like to successfully implement a management system for safety and health at work (OHS) according to ISO 45001, but don't know how? We will tell you the most important success factors! To the blog post

Basically, a functioning communication process requires a coordinating body, such as a "crisis communication" staff unit. It also requires immediately accessible information about who communicates at which point in the company.

Crisis communication - isn't that essentially about industrial accidents?

Exactly. Appropriate communication is an essential prerequisite for the intention to further reduce the number of accidents. And not to be forgotten: Here, in particular, there are also legal requirements and thus legal obligations of an organization that absolutely must be met, even beyond the OHS standard.

What legal obligations must be observed?

In the event of an emergency, rescue services often have to be alerted. Clearly defined procedures for alerting can be life-saving for those involved. It is important that not only the occupational safety specialist knows what to do in detail, but also the employees.

ISO 45001 - Safety and health at work

Identifying, minimizing and optimally avoiding risks to employees from damage to health and accidents? The appropriate basis for this is a certified management system in accordance with ISO 45001.

Some emergency situations, such as the release of harmful substances following an explosion or the improper handling of hazardous substances, not only require the rapid and coordinated alerting of emergency services. They usually also entail immediate notification of the relevant authorities. In such cases, the protection and safety of the public may also be at stake.

Occupational safety and communication: Where are the organizational risks?

If there is an obligation to report, the company must know exactly which authorities must be notified and on the basis of which specifications. But that is not all. If this emergency situation tragically involves a fatality, the employer must immediately file an accident report with the employers' liability insurance association - all of which, incidentally, also touches on the subject of "relevant interested parties."

Whoever in the company is responsible for such a report usually has no time for lengthy research into to whom and in what way what must be reported. If the accident is reported too late or to the wrong place, there will inevitably be legal consequences.

Who else must be informed in the event of an emergency?

In the emergency situation just described, please think not only of the employees and responsible authorities. Other relevant interested parties must also be truthfully informed, or want to be truthfully informed, for example the police, public prosecutor's office and press. An appropriate communication style is also important. Competent persons must be able to answer these interested parties' questions so that no false reports are made public that could damage your company.

Does my company need to be prepared for emergencies?

Absolutely, just take a look at the standard chapter 8.2 "Emergency preparedness and response". Here, the company is required to prepare for possible emergency situations on the basis of a defined communication process so that a planned response is possible. Chapter 6.1.2.1 "Identification of hazards" also plays an important role here. These links within the standard make it easy to see the importance of proper communication.

,,The exchange and provision of information are key factors in increasing occupational safety and health for employees in the company!"

Occupational safety and health: when does communication work?

In general, it can be said that communication in the SGA management system fulfills its purpose when the communication partners understand each other, or all addressees of SGA information can easily grasp its content. ISO 45001 therefore places great emphasis on ensuring that aspects that could impair or even prevent mutual understanding are taken into account by the organization - the standard also refers to diversity aspects in this context.

What are diversity issues?

The "diversity of people" is a very important aspect, for example, with regard to people's abilities and possibilities, related to gender, language, culture, literacy, disability, etcetera. In practice, this means that OHS information must be written in such a way that any employee can understand it.

,,If communication is to serve its purpose, communication partners must be able to understand each other."

This includes employees with limited reading ability or those who do not know the language in which the communication is written. In the end, appropriate OHS information may need to be delivered orally or translated.

Understanding information - how can an organization ensure this?

First and foremost, it needs to establish suitable communication processes, i.e., processes that conform to standards, in detail with concrete work instructions and briefings. The SGA standard also imposes a number of requirements on the content of communications and on the communication processes themselves. Legal and other obligations of the organization must be taken into account, as well as the views and needs of external interested parties.

What are the needs of external interested parties about?

It means, for example, that SGA information that is communicated must be factually worded, plausible, consistent, complete, and, of course, reliable. In addition, it must meet the needs of the addressees, and it should also be transparent, for example with regard to the question of how a message came about. Conversely, relevant statements or input from employees, at least insofar as they concern the SGA management system, must be heeded by the company, in the form of an appropriate response.

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In the DQS blog: ISO 45005 - new Technical Rule for Occupational Health and Safety while COVID-19.

SARS-CoV-2 continues to have a firm grip on the world. In the world of work, it is especially important to react quickly and flexibly to changing situations. The new ISO/PAS 45005 guide can be of great help in this respect. Go to the article "ISO 45005".

What constitutes internal communication - and what constitutes external communication?

It can perhaps be summarized like this: Internally, there must be communication between the various levels and functions with regard to SGA-relevant information and changes to the SGA management system. Employees must have the opportunity to participate in the continuous improvement of the SGA management system, among other things. External communication, on the other hand, focuses on the communication or communication of relevant SGA information to the outside world, taking into account legal obligations and other requirements.

Occupational health and safety needs communication - Conclusion

What is communicated internally and externally, when, with whom and how? What role do managers play in making clear the importance of health and occupational safety in everyday activities? What opportunities do employees have to pass on information about hazards and near misses? In what way is the occupational safety specialist or a safety officer involved?

Your company must define all this in accordance with DIN EN ISO 45001 so that communication really gets through. Processes and procedures in operational communication, as well as instructions and occupational safety checklists, must be plausible, complete, reliable and understandable for all those involved - keyword diversity. In external communications, it is also a matter of complying with legal obligations, for example in emergency planning and responding to emergencies.

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We are happy to answer your questions

How much effort do you have to expect to have your management system certified according to ISO 45001? Find out more.

Direct communication, personal discussions and, if necessary, asking whether statements are understood - the bottom line is that standards expert Andreas Ritter concludes that the exchange and provision of information is a key factor in increasing occupational health and safety in the company.

Note: ISO 45001 has replaced BS OHSAS 18001

On September 30, 2021, the British Standard OHSAS 18001, which has been relevant to occupational health and safety management for more than 20 years, was replaced by ISO 45001.

Organizations that have a certified management system are generally familiar with the replacement procedure and the transition periods set by the International Accreditation Forum (IAF). As with the revision of both ISO 9001 and ISO 14001, 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. Now all certificates according to BS OHSAS 18001 have lost their validity. The old standard has been superseded.

In principle, DQS had still carried out certifications according to the old standard last year - but only until September 30, 2020. After that date, the financial cost of certification was no longer justifiable.

DQS - the right partner from the start

Introducing an SGA management system tailored to your company is a forward-looking way to build trust and expand market opportunities. Successful companies also see in the certification an opportunity to recognize risks and potentials more clearly through a neutral, independent view from the outside.

DQS was founded in 1985 as Germany's first certification company. Since that time, we have been one of the leading audit specialists and certifiers worldwide. Our founding partners DGQ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Qualität e. V.) and DIN (Deutsches Institut für Normung e. V.) are still important partners for education and training as well as standardization work.

Author
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.

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<p>DQS standard expert for environmental management and occupational safety</p>