Introducing the new ISO45001 safety standards

Published date
12 Mar 2018

Over the past few years, the TUC, along with the European and International Trade Union Confederations, has campaigned against a proposed new standards for health and safety management systems.

That's because we believe that workplace standards were best developed by governments, employers and unions through the International Labour Organization (ILO) not by groups who want to make money from being able to work as consultants in implementing or certifying standards.

Trade unions have previously warned that the private standards approach could lead to a move away from an emphasis on prevention based on risk management developed through union consultation, towards a more bureaucratic, process-driven approach aimed at achieving and maintaining accreditation.

Despite these concerns, the new standard for occupational safety and health was developed and the International Standardisation Organisation have finally published it. The new standard is called ISO 45001

Now in most workplaces this new standard will be pretty irrelevant. Although employers need a system for managing health and safety risks, most do not need a detailed one that involves a lot of bureaucracy. The TUC believes that having a health and safety management system is important, but it must be more than pointless paperwork. What makes a workplace safer is removing hazards, controlling risks and ensuring good worker involvement. The HSE have guidance on health and safety management systems called HSG65. If the employer implements this fully, the HSE says that they are likely to be complying with the minimum legal requirements.

But it is likely that, over time, ISO 45001 could be required for gaining contracts in some sectors, in particular infrastructure and other construction work. It may also be required for the UK branches of multi-national companies who want to standardise their health and safety management systems.

However, if an employer decides to use the standard, trade unions should seek to be fully involved to ensure that it is done in a way that ensures that the top priority is protecting workers – not achieving a certificate. That is why the TUC has published guidance for union representatives to help them respond if their employer does decide they want to try to gain certification to the new standard. We believe that it is important that unions are fully involved to ensure that the standard is a way to improve health and safety performance and not just a tick-box exercise.

Over the past few years, the TUC, along with the European and International Trade Union Confederations, has campaigned against a proposed new standard for health and safety management systems. That is because we believe that workplace standards were best developed by governments, employers and unions through the International Labour Organization (ILO) not by groups who want to make money from being able to work as consultants in implementing or certifying standards.

Trade unions have previously warned that the private standards approach could lead to a move away from an emphasis on prevention based on risk management developed through union consultation, towards a more bureaucratic, process-driven approach aimed at achieving and maintaining accreditation.

Despite these concerns, the new standard for occupational safety and health was developed and the International Standardisation Organisation have finally published it. The new standard is called ISO 45001

Now in most workplaces this new standard will be pretty irrelevant. Although employers need a system for managing health and safety risks, most do not need a detailed one that involves a lot of bureaucracy. The TUC believes that having a health and safety management system is important, but it must be more than pointless paperwork. What makes a workplace safer is removing hazards, controlling risks and ensuring good worker involvement. The HSE have guidance on health and safety management systems called HSG65. If the employer implements this fully, the HSE says that they are likely to be complying with the minimum legal requirements.

But it is likely that, over time, ISO 45001 could be required for gaining contracts in some sectors, in particular infrastructure and other construction work. It may also be required for the UK branches of multi-national companies who want to standardise their health and safety management systems.

However, if an employer decides to use the standard, trade unions should seek to be fully involved to ensure that it is done in a way that ensures that the top priority is protecting workers – not achieving a certificate. That is why the TUC has published guidance for union representatives to help them respond if their employer does decide they want to try to gain certification to the new standard. We believe that it is important that unions are fully involved to ensure that the standard is a way to improve health and safety performance and not just a tick-box exercise.