How ISO 45001 helps ensure health and wellbeing at work

Workers wearing high visibility jackets and hard hats testing measuring equipment

The ISO 45001 standard is a structured management system that helps businesses control every element of health and safety in the workplace.

Lives are lost or changed in the UK every day because of work accidents or diseases linked to work activities. To help prevent this, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) drew up a defining framework for maintaining health and safety at work.

First published in March 2018, the main goal of ISO 45001 is the reduction of occupational injuries and diseases, including promoting and protecting physical and mental health.

If applied properly, the standard can result in a safer, healthier and more secure workforce as well as improved productivity. It is also key to helping businesses demonstrate their responsible working practices, which are becoming increasingly important to corporate brands and reputations.

"If a business can tick the box saying they have ISO 45001 certification, then the procurement process is completely streamlined."

Patrick O’Donnell
Senior Health and Safety Advisor

The ISO 45001 standard can be applied to any function of a business that looks to support health and safety, including:

  • training
  • risk assessment
  • consultation and communication with employees
  • management review
  • products and services
  • work activities.

The standard is designed to be flexible and adaptable to any business. So, for example, if employee stress and mental health issues had been identified as a risk to your business, they could be specified as an item within risk assessment and actioned.

Patrick O’Donnell, Senior Health and Safety Advisor for NatWest Mentor, says the difference between ISO 45001 and other management systems is that it is structured, internationally recognised, and requires annual audits against the standard by an independent, external body.

He explains: “The auditor will review documentation to ensure it’s current, hold interviews with employees, examine training materials and discuss health and safety processes with senior management. They may also carry out a site inspection to make a real-time evaluation of whether ISO 45001 is being followed in the workplace.”

Commercial advantages

The main commercial reason businesses might want to attain ISO 45001 would be to improve their standing in the tender process. It is an easier way for a large company to understand if a business has a good health and safety culture without having to conduct a lengthy investigation of every company involved in a tender.

Larger organisations, in sectors like manufacturing and construction, will often not permit sub-contractors or supply-chain partners to enter their tender processes if they are not ISO 45001 compliant.

“It’s not a legal requirement, but the ability to participate in these tenders is a real driver for smaller businesses to get certified,” says Patrick. “If a business can tick the box saying they hold ISO 45001 certification, then the procurement process is completely streamlined.”

Although ISO 45001 certification can make a business more viable at tender, achieving it can sometimes be complicated, time-consuming and with significant costs attached depending on the size of the business – so it may not be right for every company.

Patrick explains: “It might be overkill for a very small business, working on small, domestic projects, to undertake ISO 45001 certification but it’s often essential for smaller companies looking to work on bigger projects and drive more business.

“When it’s needed, it’s really needed, and when certified, it can make a huge difference to the business and its employees.”

While external partners like NatWest Mentor can help businesses conduct gap analyses, set up action plans and assist with the adoption and maintenance process, it’s advisable to have a dedicated staff member take responsibility for its upkeep. Without regular checks it’s likely that the business will lose its certification, along with any contracts that depend upon it, Patrick says.

Combining 45001 with other ISO systems

The ISO 45001 framework works alongside other standards, like ISO 14001 for environmental management, and ISO 9001 for quality management, and shares an overall structure with them. Some businesses choose to adopt an integrated system that combines two or all three systems, handling all aspects of health and safety for the business.

“Regardless of what industry you’re working in, health and safety is a big part of any of any occupational setting now,” Patrick says. “ISO 45001 is universally accepted and a valuable certification in a wide variety of industries.”

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