Insight Into ISO 45001

Significant changes to OHSMS requirements

by Thea Dunmire

The latest draft of the International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) new occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS) standard was released for public comment on Feb. 12, 2016. The original intent in developing ISO 45001 was to replace the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001 standard with an ISO standard.

Because OHSAS 18001 is a mature standard with more than 100,000 certifications worldwide, it seemed it would be relatively easy to draft a new OHSMS standard using the Annex SL structure.1 That turned out not to be the case. More importantly, the draft international standard version of ISO 45001 (ISO/DIS 45001) bears little resemblance to OHSAS 18001.

ISO/DIS 45001 is filled with lengthy and complex subclauses that make it difficult to determine what the requirements actually are. In many ways, it looks more like a government regulation than a management system standard.

There are a number of areas where the requirements in ISO/DIS 45001 represent a significant departure from those set out in OHSAS 18001 and Annex SL. These include the following key changes:

  • Increased emphasis on worker participation and the inclusion of explicit requirements for involving workers’ representatives in organizational decision making.
  • Complex planning requirements that would replace Annex SL’s risk-based thinking approach with requirements to control every risk and opportunity.

Changes in worker participation requirements

The requirements for participation of workers and workers’ representatives are some of the significant changes from OHSAS 18001, which focuses more on identifying and addressing workplace hazards than on labor relations issues.

The term "worker" is not defined in OHSAS 18001, and worker representation issues also are avoided. Additionally, there are no defined terms for participation, consultation or representation.

In OHSAS 18001, issues of worker participation, consultation and representation in an occupational health and safety (OH&S) management system are dealt with in subclause In this clause, the issue of worker representation is addressed in two sentences:

An organization is required to establish, implement and maintain a procedure that addresses "representation on OH&S matters." An organization also is required to inform workers about the arrangements made for their participation, including who their representatives are on OH&S matters.3

There are no other explicit references to representation in OHSAS 18001. Organizations are, however, required to take into account applicable legal requirements in their OH&S management systems. These include laws, regulations and contracts that specify requirements for worker participation in OH&S programs. For example, this would include the worker participation requirements set out in the OSHA process safety regulations.4

The requirements in ISO/DIS 45001 are significantly different: The word "worker" is defined as a "person performing work or work-related activities under the control of the organization."5 Workers are not limited to just employees and also can include contract workers and individuals employed by other organizations. The definition even includes unpaid volunteers. The rationale behind this definition is that the nature of work is evolving, and individuals are increasingly performing work under a variety of different employment relationships, particularly as contract or agency workers.

The words "participation" and "consultation" also are defined in ISO/DIS 45001. Participation is the "involvement of workers in decision-making processes in the OH&S management system." Consultation is defined as a "process by which the organization seeks the view of the workers before it makes a decision."6

These definitions were added due to a lack of agreement in the ISO Project Committee 283—the group responsible for developing ISO 45001—about what "participation" and "consultation" meant, resulting in different interpretations of the standard’s requirements.

Because of objections raised by the International Labor Organization about the previous draft’s definition of "workers’ representative," the term is no longer defined. In addition, the references to "workers’ representatives, if applicable" in the last draft were changed to "where they exist, workers’ representatives" in ISO/DIS 45001.

The phrase "where they exist, workers’ representatives" is used eight times in the specification portion of ISO 45001. The associated requirements are listed in the following clauses and subclauses:

  • 5.1.e: Top management is required to demonstrate leadership and commitment to the OH&S management system by "… ensuring active participation of workers, and where they exist, workers’ representatives, using consultation and the identification and removal of obstacles or barriers to participation."
  • 5.2: The organization is required to include in the OH&S policy "a commitment to participation, i.e. the involvement of workers, and where they exist, workers’ representatives, in the decision-making processes in the OH&S management system."
  • 5.4: The organization is required to "establish, implement and maintain processes for participation [including consultation] in the developing, planning, implementation, evaluation and actions for improvement of the OH&S management system by workers at all applicable levels and functions, and where they exist, workers’ representatives."
  • 6.2.1: The organization’s OH&S objectives "shall take into account the outputs of consultation with workers, and where they exist, workers’ representatives."
  • 7.5.3: The organization is to address, as applicable, "access by workers, and where they exist, workers’ representatives to relevant documented information."
  • 9.2.2: The organization is required to "ensure that relevant audit findings are reported to relevant workers, and where they exist, workers’ representatives and relevant interested parties."
  • 9.3: The organization is required to communicate its management review results to "relevant workers, and where they exist, workers’ representatives and relevant interested parties."
  • 10.2.2: The organization is required to "communicate the results of continual improvement to its relevant workers, and where they exist, workers’ representatives."7

Although there are organizations who already involve workers’ representatives in many of their OH&S decision-making processes, the requirements set out in ISO/DIS 45001 will likely pose a significant challenge for many organizations. In the United States, some organizations may be unwilling to certify conformance to a standard they believe will result in their registrars auditing their labor relations arrangements.

Lack of clarity related to risk-based thinking requirements

There’s been a great deal of discussion about the new risk-based thinking requirements in ISO 9001:2015 and ISO 14001:2015. The issues related to handling "risks and opportunities" in these standards are also present in ISO/DIS 45001.

Section 6 of ISO/DIS 45001 is long and disjointed, and many new subclauses were added. This has led to a lack of clarity about what is actually required.

More importantly, the way in which Annex SL’s text was split between clause 6.1.1 and 6.1.4 made the requirements unclear. The text in 6.1.4 now states that the organization must take action to address all identified risks, OH&S risks, opportunities and OH&S opportunities. If this remains the requirement, conformance may be difficult for many organizations in developing countries.

Now what?

It is not unusual for the language in a standard to get worse before it gets better. Reaching consensus is a complex and difficult process, especially if a standard will be translated into multiple languages and used in several countries with different laws and traditions.

The concern associated with ISO 45001 is that there may not be an opportunity to improve the language. Currently, the publication of ISO/DIS 45001 as the new ISO OHSMS standard is being voted on. Those participating in this standard’s development must decide whether the current language is good enough.

We will get the results of this vote in May. If the vote to move forward is a yes, the standard could be published later this year with essentially the same requirements that are currently in ISO/DIS 45001.


  1. International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission, ISO/IEC Directives, Part 1, Consolidated ISO Supplement, Procedures specific to ISO, sixth edition, 2015, Annex SL.
  2. Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series
    (OHSAS), BS OHSAS 18001—Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems—Requirements, subclause
  3. Ibid.
  4. United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Code of Federal Regulations 1910.119, "Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals," http://tinyurl.com/cfr1910-119.
  5. ISO, ISO/DIS 45001—Occupational health and safety management systems, Requirements with guidance for use.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.

Thea Dunmire is the president of ENLAR Compliance Services in Largo, FL. She has participated internationally in the development of multiple International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standards. She is currently the chair of the ANSI Z1 auditing subcommittee, which focuses on alignment of auditing requirements across the ISO management system standards. She is an environmental attorney with more than 30 years of environmental, health and safety experience.

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