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Global workplace safety standard on verge of debut

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Supply chain pressures for safer workplaces have driven the adoption of a new global occupational health and safety management systems standard.

The ISO 45001 standard is the first global standard for occupational health and safety management systems. The International Organization for Standardization developed the standard over a 4½-year period, and it was approved in January by about 93% of the ISO membership — beyond the two-thirds majority needed for publication — and is scheduled for publication on March 12.

The standard will provide a framework for occupational health and safety goals, facilitating the identification of workplace safety risks and solutions and metrics for measuring the success of safety initiatives to reduce the nearly 2.8 million workplace fatalities across the globe, according to ISO.

“The idea is to have a repetitive process that produces the same result,” said Larry Poague, senior loss control consultant with Lockton Cos. L.L.C. in Kansas City, Missouri. “In some of the major accidents that we’ve had, even in the United States, we had a lot of people saying, ‘Yeah, we’re meeting the law.’ But we weren’t necessarily creating a process that identified the hazards and then ensured the hazards were fixed on the back end and that we have that repetitive loop that continues to ensure that hazard has been mitigated.”

“If we don’t get the same results, we go back and figure out what failed in our mechanism and how do we implement something to ensure that it doesn’t fail again,” he added.

The ISO 45001 standard is designed to build on and integrate with previous standards such as ISO 14001, which governs environmental management, and ISO 9001, which governs quality management, among other standards.

“What I like about (the standard) is that it can work with the other programs,” said Randy Parnow, corporate safety manager at industrial supply company Fastenal Co. in Winona, Minnesota. “I like that you can use it to bring the environment and safety together in one plan. I like that it ensures that you have employee involvement, because a lot of times companies will try to set up a safety program and without employees involved, if they have no ownership, they don’t care. When they’re involved in the process, then they care.”

The United States also has a standard called ANSI Z10 for occupational health and safety management systems, while OHSAS 18001 was the de facto international standard, said Victor Toy, chair of the U.S. technical advisory group on ISO 45001 administered by the American Society of Safety Engineers and a San Francisco-based principal with consultancy Insyst OH&S.

“It’s been a great way to build risk management for health and safety into the business, as well as to make sure you focus on identifying significant risks, prioritizing and creating this whole idea of continually improving the way you manage risk in an organization,” he said.

Mr. Parnow said his company created a management system based on the draft of ISO 45001 rather than using an older standard such as Z10.

“Our company has a very good safety culture, so we’ve had a lot of the systems in place — we just didn’t have a management system,” he said. “Our customers were asking about it. None of our customers required it to be in place. We have a good safety record already, so they weren’t really concerned about our safety systems. But because customers were starting to ask do we have it, we thought we should look into it. We decided since ISO 45001 was going to be a new standard, why go start a management system with one of the older standards?”

The importance of having a global standard that could be practiced across borders became obvious to many within the safety industry as tragic events such as the Savar building collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,000 workers in the garment industry in April 2013, demonstrated the workplace safety risks inherent in global supply chains, experts say.

“Maybe in the United States or Europe, our locations have strong safety standards, but we outsourced to other countries and now are holding them to the same safety standards,” Mr. Poague said.

“Since this is a system that is now a global one, rather than having to adopt individual country standards on how you manage occupational health and safety, it’s really going to make it easier for organizations to do business across country lines, whether or not you have operations or you have suppliers in other countries that you do business with,” Mr. Toy said.

Many organizations currently using the 18001 standard have pledged to certify to the ISO 45001 within the three-year transition period, Mr. Toy said, adding that he thinks the potential for adoption of 45001, given its global nature, could be even wider than 18001.

“Whether you want to improve your own risk management or you want to know the people you do business with use a certain standard for protecting workers and ensuring a certain degree for sustainability, you’ll be able to ask for that. We think the potential is really high, higher than it’s ever been.”

“It’s not just a check-the-box type of ISO standard,” said Edwin Foulke, an Atlanta-based partner at Fisher & Phillips L.L.P., a former OSHA assistant secretary of labor and a member of ASSE’s technical advisory group. “Unfortunately, I think a lot of them are like that — you check the box and you get your certification. I wanted to make sure that people who do get certified in ISO 45001 have a good safety program. And I think that’s going to happen here. I think you’re going to see a lot of companies, both in the United States and overseas — particularly if you’re an international company — more than likely you will have to seriously consider or get pushed into getting certified in 45001, because you may have customers and clients who want you to be in that program.”

“Companies that get into this are going to significantly improve their safety programs, and that’s going to translate into less workers comp costs and the total costs associated with injured employees,” he continued. “You’re going to see for companies that are going into 45001 that their safety program is going to improve and as a result they’re going to be more profitable and more competitive.”