Corporate Safety Consensus Standard a Global First

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By Bruce Rolfsen

Companies, especially those aiming to do business globally, could benefit from a new international worker safety and health consensus standard expected to be published in March.

The voluntary guidance, overseen by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) based in Geneva, enables companies’ safety and health programs to be compared regardless of national requirements or local expectations, American representatives who helped write the standard told Bloomberg Environment.

The standard doesn’t set out specific safety practice mandates, said San Francisco-based safety consultant and former IBM manager Victor Toy, who chaired the American Society of Safety Engineers group representing the U.S. as the standard was developed.

Instead, the standard outlines how to set up safety and health programs and establishes practices that can be meshed into a company’s overall management goals.

Best Practices

The standard, Toy said, incorporates several concepts often cited by safety professionals as best practices:

  • leadership participation,
  • worker involvement in developing the program,
  • identification of hazards,
  • spending the money and time needed for the program’s success, and
  • continual improvement to the program based on reviews using measurable goals.

Officially, the standard is called ISO 45001. It is a companion to existing ISO standards for environmental program management (ISO 14001) and quality management (ISO 9001), said Kathy Seabrook, vice chair of the ASSE group that worked on the standard and president of Global Solutions Inc., in Mendham, N.J.

Prior to ISO 45001’s release, a British rule, OHSAS 18001, was the de facto international standard, Seabrook said.

Options, Differences

Since 2005, U.S. employers could follow the American National Standards Institute’s ANSI Z10 standard for safety and health management programs.

Jim Howe, also a member of the ASSE group and president of consulting firm Safety Solutions in Oakland, Calif., said if a company is trying to decide between the two standards, ISO 45001 may be the best choice for firms with international reach or need their safety program to certified on a worldwide scale.

A company focused on the U.S. may prefer to use ANSI Z10 since it is specific to the American laws, regulations, and terminology, Howe said.

Howe chairs the ASSE panel overseeing an ongoing revision to ANSI Z10. He said that by the end of 2018 there should be guidance for employers wanting to transition to ISO 45001.

There are differences between the standards, Howe said. For example, ISO 45001 calls for broader coverage of contracted workers than ANSI Z10. And the documentation requirements for complying with ISO 45001 are more extensive than the U.S. standard.

Drafting ISO 45001 began in 2013. In late 2017, the proposed standard was released for a final vote, Seabrook said. On Jan. 20, ISO announced the standard was approved, with 97 percent of the participants backing the standards.

After ISO publishes the standard in March it will be available for a fee from the American Society of Safety Engineers.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration doesn’t require employers to have a safety and health management program, but does recommend companies adopt “injury and illness prevention programs” and provides help setting up programs.

Some states, such as California and Washington, that have occupational safety agencies do mandate employers have written programs.

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