What is ISO 45001?

ISO 45001 is the world’s international standard for occupational health and safety, issued to protect employees and visitors from work-related accidents and diseases. ISO 45001 certification was developed to mitigate any factors that can cause employees and businesses irreparable harm. Its standards are the result of great effort by a committee of health and safety management experts who looked closely at a number of other approaches to system management — including ISO 9001 and ISO 14001. In addition, ISO 45001 was designed to take other existing occupational health and safety standards, such as OHSAS 18001, into account — as well as the ILO’s labor standards, conventions and safety guidelines.
Especially geared toward senior management, ISO 45001 has the ultimate goal of helping businesses provide a healthy and safe working environment for their employees and everyone else who visits the workplace. This goal can be achieved by controlling factors that could potentially lead to injury, illness and — in extreme situations — even death. As a result, ISO 45001 is concerned with mitigating any factors that are harmful or that pose a danger to workers’ physical and/or mental well-being.
Sadly, thousands of workers lose their lives each day to preventable instances of adverse workplace conditions. In fact, according to the ISO and International Labour Organization — or ILO — more than 2.7 million deaths occur globally due to occupational accidents. And in addition to that there are 374 million non-fatal injuries each year, resulting in 4 or more days absences from work.
According to many health and safety experts — including the professionals who worked on the ISO committee — ISO 45001 represents a landmark breakthrough. For the first time internationally, businesses of all sizes can now access a single framework that offers them a clear pathway to developing better and more robust occupational health and safety measures.
ISO 45001 has seen a 97.3% increase in worldwide certificates in 2020, showing the growth and importance of UKAS accredited certification in recent times. Statistics straight from the most recent
ISO Survey.
ISO 45001 is heavily informed by OHSAS 18001 — not a simple revision or brief update. Read on to see what organizations of all types and sizes need to do to maintain compliance and achieve ISO 45001 certification

Benefits of Implementation

With or without a formal OH&S management system, organizations have a moral and legal duty to protect workers from accidents and ill health. This next section provides an overview of a selection of positive benefits from implementation of ISO 45001. These positive benefits are not exhaustive.
Adoption of the high-level structure of ‘Annex SL’ enables organizations to integrate ISO 45001 with existing ISO 9001 Quality and ISO14001 Environmental management systems. This approach has reduced the complexity of multiple clause requirements across different standards applications, saving time and resources.
The standard provides a systematic approach for senior leadership to assess OH&S risk and opportunities, monitor and review safety performance and set objectives for continual improvement within the ‘context’ of organizational activities. This may include, for example, worker health promotion campaigns or the monitoring of the OH&S effects of products and services provided.
Implementation is a demonstration and commitment from senior leadership to internal and external stakeholders (interested parties) of the intent to protect workers from accidents including short and long term ill health effects. Of course, this may in-turn reduce downtime, lead to reduction or prevention of worker loss time hours and potential prosecution.
This commitment also provides assurances to the Board of Directors, Trustees or owners that management controls regarding OH&S risks inherent within the organization.
The standard promotes worker participation when identifying hazards, elimination or reducing risk by implementation of controls integrated with other business process. This approach can improve safety culture, minimize risk and embed best practice resulting in increased productivity.
In addition to internal process controls, the standard has provided requirements to
assess procurement of products and services which may have influences on OH&S. For example, risk based structured management of contractors. Such a process can in-turn provide controls to reduce both OH&S risk, promote positive safety culture and protect business.
The standard provides a structure to monitor and review compliance obligations to ensure the organization is legally compliant including products and services. It is important for an organization to understand what it is to achieve, why it needs to achieve and if it has achieved – this should be demonstrated within the system.
Both internal and external audit programmers provide scrutiny and effectiveness of the OH&S management system including processes. The programmer promotes communication and participation of workers with identification of gaps leading to continuous improvement.
With an emphasis on workers taking an active role in OH&S matters, this can have positive benefits on an organization’s reputation as a safe place to work leading to staff retention, motivation and greater productivity.
Implementation is also recognition for having achieved an international standard benchmark which may have positive influence on existing and potential customers in fulfilling their own social responsibility commitments.
For further information on positive benefits of ISO 45001 standard implementation and its intended outcome refer to section 1 ‘Scope’.

Risk Based Thinking/Audits

Any company that operates an OH&S management system must ensure there are effective measures to evaluate performance which enables continual improvement internally. This section outlines the different methodologies of auditing in relation to the OH&S system to ensure it is effective at all levels of the organization and meets the requirements of the standard.

Risk Based Thinking (RBT) is a central tenet of ISO 45001. RBT requires the Management Team to continually assess the issues that affect OH&S aspects of an organization and ensure that appropriate targets, resources and controls are in place. RBT empowers organizations to make dynamic changes to their objectives and focus, whilst at the same time ensuring that resources are in place to control changes and unforeseen circumstances.
In relation to OH&S, risk-based thinking extends to areas outside of the organization which may influence safety.
For example, procurement of products and services (including contractors) and the impact of supplied products and services. The organization must determine the methodology for risk-based thinking with consideration of compliance obligations and the participation of workers.
For operational aspects the standard clearly defines the hierarchy of control for hazard identification and the reduction of risks with the involvement of workers. This methodology requires the organization to reduce risks associated with hazards to a reasonably practicable level.


Internal audits are taken at a moment in time to determine if policies and practices are effective and achieving the intended aim. The internal audit is an opportunity to engage with workers and to capture a true reflection of processes. Audits may identify positive evidence of conformity including compliance obligations, however through inspection and observation they may identify improvement opportunities and non-compliance in breach of the management standard.

Developing an audit plan does not have to be a complicated process. Through risk based thinking a series of audits can be scheduled to focus areas of higher risk and to engage with identified groups of workers. It’s up to the organization to determine the frequency provided it is defined. In addition to operational aspects the plan will cover core processes including compliance obligations, management review and documented information.

A less formal approach maybe adopted in addition to the audit plan by conducting ‘walk through’ audits. This may be conducted by senior leadership or at operational level to inspect areas of the organization to pre-determined questions. This is a further opportunity to engage with workers, promote communication and build a positive safety culture within the organization.

Second party audits are usually conducted by customers or organizations on their behalf, however they may be conducted by regulators to ensure the organization complies with legal requirements. External audits are a useful way to substantiate an organization OH&S claim and to gather first-hand information and contact with workers prior to commitment to a formal business relationship.
Second party audits may be planned; however, notice may not be provided from regulators emphasising the requirement to ensure OH&S organizational requirements are prepared.

Third party audits are conducted by UKAS accredited certification bodies such as NQA in compliance of the ISO 45001 OH&S standard. Depending on the number of employees, sites, risk and complexity of the organization, the certification body will determine the number of audit days required to cover the full scope of the standard. Prior to certification, the organization may consider a gap analysis conducted by either consultant or certification body to identify gaps against the OH&S standard.

Certification is a demonstration to interested parties including workers, customers and regulators that there is:

  • A mechanism for regular assessment to monitor and implement compliance obligations
  • Regular assessment to monitor and improve OH&S processes
  • Identification of hazards and reduce OH&S risk
  • Regular review and assessment of OH&S risk and opportunities
  • Worker participation in the decision-making process to ensure a safe working environment, continuous improvement and safety culture.

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