Following in the footsteps of the ISO 9000 Quality Management Systems (QMS) and ISO 14000 Environmental Management Systems (EMS) standards, a movement is underway to develop an international Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (OHSMS) standard.
Proponents assert that such a standard could improve global health and safety, enhance business performance, integrate occupational health and safety (OH&S) into quality and environmental management systems, and improve conditions in countries where OH&S regulations don’t exist, are not enforced or have been insufficiently developed. Other possible benefits include the ability for organizations to demonstrate sound OH&S performance in a manner consistent with their OH&S policy and objectives, improved risk management, fewer injuries and illnesses on the job, healthier and more productive employees, and less money spent on insurance.
Proposals to develop an international OHSMS standard were rejected by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Management Board (TMB) in 1997 and 2000, but the issue remains very much alive. With growing international support to develop a standard, the ISO TMB is expected to reconsider the matter.
In the meantime, several OHSMS specifications have been developed around the world. The British Standards Institution (BSI), which previously developed BS 5750 as a precursor to ISO 9000 and BS 7750 as a model for ISO 14000, issued BS 8800, Guide to occupational health and safety management systems, in 1996. After other OHSMS specifications were published by national standards bodies and registrars, sponsors of these specifications worked to reach a consensus on an international specification. The result is BSI-Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001, Occupational health and safety requirements – Specification, released in 1999.
OHSAS 18001 may prove to be a model for an ISO OHSMS standard, but organizations concerned about occupational health and safety don’t have to wait for this development to take place.