From Legal Compliance to OHSAS 18001 Conformance

It surprises me just how few experienced health and safety practitioners know very much about the most widely used health and safety management system standard in the world – OHSAS 18001. One of the main reasons for this, I think, is down to the continuing but inexplicable fondness that NEBOSH maintains for using HSG 65 as its management system of choice. The international business community, on the other hand, adopted OHSAS 18001 as its management system of choice over a decade ago, and its use is increasing.

Why do companies use OHSAS 18001?

The main reason continues to be for formal third party certification purposes. OHSAS 18001 certification is increasingly being used by customers as part of their selection criteria when considering suppliers. Additionally it provides an outward facing commitment by the company to maintaining safe working systems, and it sometimes pays for itself with lower insurance premiums.

Legal Compliance vs OHSAS 18001 Conformance

A lot of the time, when I start working with a client that is seeking OHSAS 18001 certification, I find they initially believe that going from being broadly compliant with legislation, to achieving certification will be no big deal, a small step. This is rarely the case. OHSAS 18001 contains a lot of requirements over and above those that are required by law. OHSAS 18001 requires continual OH&S improvement (which the law does not) and this broad requirement disaggregates down into a lot of supporting processes and activities that, again, are not required by law. Examples include;

  • Proactively keeping up to date with legislation
  • Periodically CHECKING your compliance to applicable legislation
  • Application of the hierarchy of control measures in risk assessment procedures
  • Performing internal audits
  • Performing and documenting management review
  • Investigating incidents (not just ACCIDENTS) and applying corrective actions
  • Proactive communication and consultation processes

All in all this means a lot more paperwork, and a significant overhead cost. It doesn’t take care of itself. In general terms, whenever I perform a gap analysis on a legally compliant organisation, I expect that the most significant area for action will be in section 4.5 of OHSAS 18001 – CHECKING. Very little of section 4.5 is required by law, so few companies will have developed processes in those non-mandatory areas unless they have an OHSAS 18001 agenda.

Anyway, it’s no walk in the park.


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