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Are You Considering an OHSMS?

Christine Sullivan, CSP, ARM, 2022-2023 ASSP President
Apr 01, 2023

ASSP has championed occupational health and safety management systems (OHSMS) for many years. Long ago, the Society recognized that when these systems are implemented and continuously updated over time, they can help improve an organization’s safety performance, lower costs and increase employee engagement and satisfaction. This recognition was the primary reason ASSP became secretariat of ANSI/ASSP Z10 and led the U.S. effort to adopt ISO 45001 as an American National Standard. And, while OSHA does not require companies to have an OHSMS, it has published “Recommended Practices for Safety and Health Programs” and has a well-established set of guidelines for facilities applying to its Voluntary Protection Programs. 

These consensus standards and government guidelines share some common elements that practicing safety professionals know well. These include management commitment and leadership; employee engagement and participation; risk assessment; hazard identification and control; and continuous improvement. An OHSMS aims to bring together these interactive systems to ensure successful work and protect against harm. As stated in ANSI/ASSP Z10: 

This concept of safety expands beyond the historical view of safety being merely the absence of injury or freedom from unacceptable risk. It recognizes the complex interactions of the workers, the work, the workplace and the context of the organization that all need to be considered to proactively manage and sustain successful work under the dynamic conditions that are present.

Experience has shown that when a company implements an OHSMS effectively, it can increase its ability to minimize workplace risks and lower the costs of occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities.

Most safety professionals are familiar with W. Edwards Deming’s plan-do-check-act (PDCA) model. This model serves as a framework in most management system standards. For example, in ISO 45001, the PDCA cycle incorporates these steps:

  1. Plan: Determine and assess OSH risks and opportunities and establish objectives and processes necessary for meeting the organization’s context.
  2. Do: Implement the processes as planned.
  3. Check: Monitor and measure the activities and processes in relation to organizational objectives and report the results.
  4. Act: Take action to continually improve OHSMS performance.

However, as cautioned in ANSI/ASSP Z10, it is important to expand your perspective on PDCA to see it as a dynamic, iterative process rather than as a linear checklist. The various elements within an organization interact at different times and in different ways, and many internal and external factors can affect actions and outcomes. This is an important distinction to keep in mind when implementing an OHSMS or speaking with stakeholders about one.

When we apply systems thinking to OSH, we shift focus away from blaming the worker for incidents and injuries and promote a broader focus on true root causes such as work systems and methods. In addition, applying systems thinking allows us to contribute more concretely to the sustainability of our organizations, which has become a significant differentiator for investors, prospective employees, supply chain partners and other stakeholders. Worker safety is often a significant part of the story a company has to tell about its impacts on the economy, the environment and society. In fact, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), a widely recognized publisher of sustainability reporting standards, signified this fact when it issued GRI 403 to establish requirements for reporting an organization’s OSH impacts. 

If your organization has not yet implemented an OHSMS, I encourage you to check out our complimentary microlearning program (https://assp.us/OHSMS) to learn how a safety management system can help your organization integrate processes to better address OSH risks, reduce inefficiencies, close performance gaps and eliminate silos. By improving collaboration and integration across your organization, you can produce better products, experience fewer business interruptions, enjoy greater worker engagement and reduce workforce turnover.

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