Introduce ISO 45001? The introduction and implementation of an effective occupational safety and health (OHS) management system is always a strategic and operational decision for a company. The internationally applicable ISO 45001 standard provides the appropriate framework for this. According to the standard's authors, however, merely implementing the requirements formally is not enough to successfully introduce the OHS management system. Rather, it is important to filter out the success factors mentioned in the standard requirements and to promote them with a view to the company context.





Introducing ISO 45001: What makes an OHS management system successful?

ISO 45001 devotes a separate section (0.3) to the topic of "success factors", similar to the environmental standard ISO 14001. There, the effectiveness and thus the ability to achieve the intended results of the OHS management system are primarily made dependent on the following three key factors:

  • Leadership function of top management
  • Commitment, responsibility and accountability of top management
  • Participation of employees at all levels and functions (consultation)

But the standard also lists other factors that are necessary for successful implementation:

  • OHS policy and OHS objectives: all topics related to occupational health and safety are integrated into the company's relevant business processes
  • Compliance: legal obligations and other requirements must be consistently observed
  • Internal and external communication: if necessary, the required structures must first be created for this purpose
  • Risk-based approach: in addition to risks, possible opportunities must also be considered and evaluated
  • Process-oriented approach: design effective processes to identify hazards, control risks and exploit opportunities
  • Provide necessary resources: competent personnel, work equipment, buildings, facilities, information technology and systems for emergency response, etc.
  • Ongoing performance evaluation

In principle, all of these factors are closely linked to top management's responsibilities. Thus, the entire standards chapter 5, "Leadership and Employee Involvement," plays a key role in the implementation of an occupational health and safety management system.

Top management: Leadership and commitment as the first success factor

Top management has an unequivocal duty to demonstrate leadership and commitment and to serve as a role model for the employees entrusted to its care. In this respect, it must have internalized the importance of OHS aspects and actively support the OHS management system. This can only be done through control and personal commitment.


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ISO 45001 - Internal Audits

  • OHS-relevant requirements at a glance
  • Audit program
  • Internal audits and management review

We highlight what exactly needs to be taken into account.

The active role of management should be made clear above all by the following approach:

  • By way of appropriate communication with employees, keyword "readiness to be responsive and to give feedback" (among others, chapter 5.4)
  • In the provision of the necessary resources, keyword "Procurement of work equipment, personnel and infrastructure" (among others ,chapter 7.1).

Internal audits in occupational health and safety are an indispensable tool for a company. Their goal is one of critical self-examination. They question whether the required implementation is effective and maintained. The results obtained by internal auditors are incorporated into the management assessment. In addition, ISO 45001 requires that audit results are also reported to employees and other relevant interested parties.

Best prerequisite: A culture of trust

In order to successfully implement ISO 45001, a corporate culture based on trust is required above all. It is characterized by

  • Active participation of employees
  • Effective cooperation and
  • Communication based on mutual trust.

Such a corporate culture is a particular success factor. It is what enables employees to actively participate in the OHS management system in the first place. And hardly anyone can assess or recognize the hazard potential in the direct work environment better than someone who is familiar with the situation on site through his or her daily work. In this way, the OHS management system can be significantly supported. At the same time, its acceptance increases considerably.

"Merely formally implementing the requirements of ISO 45001 is not enough for a successful introduction. The outcome depends on the real success factors."

For top management, this means creating appropriate conditions and providing suitable tools. These include

  • Employee representation as an instrument for participation and consultation
  • Raising employee awareness, e.g., through appropriate training
  • Identifying potential hazards in the immediate work environment
  • Encouraging employees to report incidents and hazards without fear of reprisals or other disadvantages. Chapter 5.4 c) explicitly identifies this as an example of barriers to participation. These must be identified and removed. Where removal is not possible, barriers must be minimized.


OHS policy and OHS goals in line with corporate strategy

Another key success factor for the successful introduction of ISO 45001 is that the OHS policy and OHS targets are in line with the overarching corporate strategy. The OHS policy should focus on management's commitment to support and improve OHS performance in the long term. This creates an appropriate framework for actions that ensure the achievement of the intended outcomes of the OHS management system.

Only with the complete integration of all occupational safety and health topics into the existing management system or business processes can this prerequisite be created. The common basic structure of all modern ISO management system standards such as ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 27001 or ISO 50001, the so-called High Level Structure (HLS), provides support here. It makes integration into an existing management system much easier.


Compliance: A must for sustainable success

Compliance is a key issue for every company. It also plays a key role in the effectiveness of an OHS management system (section 6.1.3). Legal obligations and other requirements must be complied with in any case. They represent a not inconsiderable risk potential for the organization. For example, through (unintentional) non-compliance with legal obligations, e.g. in the form of contracts, or through non-compliance with other agreements entered into by the company of its own free will.

While the standard requirements of ISO 45001 have international validity, the legal situation regarding occupational health and safety differs from country to country. Depending on the location, this may mean that the standard goes beyond the legal obligations of a country. Or vice versa. Nevertheless, for an OHS management system, compliance is considered an absolute success factor.


Introducing ISO 45001 successfully with the right communication

ISO 45001 places a lot of emphasis on comprehensive communication across all levels (chap. 7.4). To ensure this, the company must establish a process and define the following:

  • About what
  • When
  • With whom 
  • How communication must take place

Even if it is not explicitly a standard requirement, companies should define "who" communicates - especially externally. This is especially true when emergencies have occurred and external agencies need to be informed. The communication process should be suitable for both gathering and disseminating information. It must also ensure that appropriate information is provided, received and understood by all relevant employees and interested parties. This is the requirement for the occupational safety management system. A distinction must be made between internal and external communication.

Internal communication

Here, it is crucial that information relevant to the OHS management system is exchanged between all relevant levels and functions, e.g., when changes are made. This is because employees can only contribute to continuous improvement if they participate in the process.

External communication

External communication is essentially linked to compliance with binding obligations and not infrequently concerns hazardous situations. Here, in addition to the content, it is particularly important that the communication channels can be used without delay. This can be achieved, for example, by regularly updating the data of contact persons.

Important note: ISO 45001 replaced BS OHSAS 18001.

On September 30, 2021, ISO 45001 replaced the British standard that has been relevant to occupational health and safety management for more than 20 years.

Companies that have a certified quality and/or environmental management system are usually familiar with the procedure and the transition periods set by the International Accreditation Forum (IAF). As with the revision of the two ISO standards, a three-year transition period has been 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 crisis. Now all BS OHSAS 18001 certificates have lost their validity. The old standard has been superseded.

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

Implementing ISO 45001: Conclusion

In order to successfully introduce ISO 45001, a number of different factors must be taken into account. Paying particular attention to them is critical to the success of the OHS management system and performance improvement. The standard therefore refers to them as success factors.

"Implementing an effective occupational safety and health (OHS) management system is always a strategic decision for a company."

The quality of these closely related factors depends directly on the extent to which top management demonstrates leadership and commitment. The standard "ISO 45001:2018-06 Management systems for occupational safety and health - Requirements with guidance for application" is available from ISO.


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In the audit, we specifically ask "why", because we want to understand the motives that led you to choose a certain way of implementation. We focus on potential for improvement and encourage a change of perspective. In this way, you can identify options for action with which you can continuously improve your management system. Take us at our word.

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Please note: Our articles are written exclusively by our standards experts for management systems and long-standing auditors. If you have any questions about occupational health and safety management systems for the author, please contact us. We look forward to talking with you.

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