ISO 45001: A New Standard in Global Occupational Health and Safety

Originally published by Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

In a global economy where your suppliers can be across town or half way around the world it can be difficult to determine if those businesses are adhering to the same health and safety standards that you are. Think of the Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh in 2013 when 1,129 people were killed when the 8-story factory where they were working collapsed due to structural issues that had gone ignored. Though the global companies that bought the clothing made in this factory may have had their own safety standards, processes and programs, they had little control over the conditions and health and safety practices of the factory thousands of kilometers away.

To combat the problem, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) has developed and released the new standard, ISO 45001:2018, Occupational health and safety management systems – Requirements with guidance for use, which provides a set of processes for improving workplace practices globally. It is intended to help organizations of all sizes and industries improve employee safety, reduce workplace risks, and create better, safer working conditions all over the world.

ISO is a United Nations recognized non-governmental organization that works in 162 countries. This standard was developed by a committee of occupational health and safety experts and takes into account other international standards such as the internationally applied OHSAS 18001 standard for occupational health and safety management systems, the International Labour Organization ILO-OSH Guidelines and the ILO’s international labour standards and conventions. The ISO 45001 will replace OHSAS 18001, the world’s former reference for health and safety.

Who it’s for

The new standard is applicable to all organization, regardless of size, industry or nature of business. It provides government agencies, industry and other affected stakeholders with guidance for improving worker safety in countries around the world. It can help organizations provide a safe and healthy work environment for workers and visitors by continually improving their occupational health and safety functions.

Key Elements

The system takes a risk-based approach and encourages proactive prevention through the identification of activities and processes that can harm workers as well as meet legal compliance requirements. Additionally, there is an emphasis placed on the responsibilities of senior management. The system can’t work without their commitment and key role in the system’s implementation, maintenance, development, and promotion. This active role played by management can help to embed the management system into the culture and day-to-day operation of the business. Worker involvement is fundamental in the system’s implementation through their participation in decision making, evaluating procedures and providing feedback.


This management system provides a structured approach to protecting workers.

Potential benefits from the use of the standard include:

  • Eliminating or minimizing risks
  • Reduction of workplace accidents
  • Reduced absenteeism and staff turnover
  • Reduced cost of insurance premiums
  • Creation of a health and safety culture, whereby employees are encouraged to take an active role in their own occupational health and safety
  • Reinforced leadership commitment to proactively improve occupational health and safety performance
  • Ability to meet legal and regulatory requirements
  • Improved staff morale through commitment to safety and encouraging participation

Supply Chain

Under ISO 45001, when production is outsourced, the parent company’s occupational health and safety standards must be applied. This means that companies that have traditionally outsourced difficult and dangerous activities to locations where the cost of production is lower and labour laws are lenient will no longer be able to do so. Suppliers and subcontractors must apply the same standards as the principal business so that the parent company stays in compliance. Adopting ISO 45001 requires that an organization assess its safety standards throughout their entire supply chain to prevent accidents.

Certification and compliance to ISO 45001 is not mandatory but is a way to provide valid proof that a contracting or outsourcing organization adheres to the same standards as its host or client. The steps involved in adhering to the standard can facilitate continuous improvement and this recognized certification can help support business expansion into global markets and ensure that the safety standards adhered to at the organization’s home are followed by suppliers, regardless of location.

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