ISO 45001 - what do you need to know?

by Laura Aucott

At 8:30 last Thursday morning, a group of 15 senior safety professionals gathered at Imagination Group offices for the latest HSE Recruitment round table.

Our topic was the new ISO 45001 system, and we aimed to answer any queries and share best practice within the room. We were ably chaired by Chris Ward – a Principal Inspector for the HSE for 36 years who was an author of HSG65 2013 and a BSI health and safety committee member responsible for UK’s contributions to the drafting of the 45001 Standard – who better to give us an insight into the implications and application of the system?

Delegates: Mike Eady, Julie North, Karen Daly, Allison Connick, Calvin Hanks, Shurene Bishop Simon, Steve Faiers, Graham Taylor, Sara Fry, Pam Sherwood, Mike Keating, Gareth Evans, Annette Fitz-John, Emma Tiernay, Megan Langtip, Chris Rowlands, Laura Aucott


Top Five Takeaways from the morning:

  1. Momentum for 45001 is increasing as Nations adopt the Standard, notably the USA’s standards institute ANSI later this year. In addition to the >1m already working to 9001/14001 as existing Integrated Management Standards who will probably migrate to 45001.
  2. Attendees declared how important 45001 will be as a prequalification requirement for tendering.
  3. How critical it will be to engage and gain the support of Top Management and workers, where for the latter, hand held devices will lead to better engagement and participation.
  4. The standard provides increased flexibility for proof of performance through a move away from documents/records/manuals to “documented information” – defined as sourced from any media, e.g. phone pics, audio.
  5. Verification of compliance can be achieved by self-audit to help manage costs, rather than certification by a 3rd party. Top management need to know their compliance status, again hand-held devices could provide the means to do this.


Chris Rowlands from HSE Recruitment began our morning by discussing the 3 main points we believed needed to be covered; the why – why a company should look at implementation, the what – i.e. how the system differs from the previous 18001 system, and the commercial benefit to companies.

Megan Langtip then gave us a fascinating insight into Imagination, our hosts for the day, explaining that they are a media and marketing agency committed to new and exciting projects throughout the globe. 



Chris Ward started with a brief presentation giving an overview of the new system, including the main themes. He explained that the new system has a real global interest, increasingly so in the Middle East, Americas and Africa, but also noted that it is difficult to gauge actual uptake as there is no real central database for this information. However, with over 1 million companies with 9001 accreditation and 300k+ with 14001 integrated systems there clearly could be some significant uptake overall. He also stated that was massive social media interest in the new system – Chris himself runs the largest Linkedin group discussing the system. 45001 will transcend national boundaries and supersede existing national OHS standards – and he also mentioned that in the US, the USA's national standards' body ANSI will be adopting the standard – a huge leap forward in helping to create a global Safety community.

Chris also touched on the concerns that have come up so far from top management (something that the discussion touched on later) as the liability of management due to an increase in pressure on leadership within the system is yet to be truly known, and there was some concern over the implications on insurance premiums. There is a possibility that these could go up as liability increases for top management. In Canada however organisations certified to state standards are eligible for insurance discounts.

Chris gave us a good overview of the basis of the system and talked about the change in the documentation process – there now is no longer a need for manuals or extensive documentation, as evidence of conformance in any format will be taken into account (data driven, photographic, video etc).

Chris wrapped up his overview by noting that organisations working to OHSAS 18001 have until March 2021 to migrate onto the new system and also gave detail of some publications that could help in the transition process (available on request).

To kick off the roundtable portion of events, Chris Rowlands asked everyone to give a short introduction and to let us know the main reason they were interested in the system, or any concerns they may initially have. There was a lot of crossover of interest in the room, with a number of professionals stating that having systems in place was integral to their tender process for new business. Others stated that they had no accredited standards currently but aimed to work towards them, so were interested in both the system itself and also the benefits of accreditation moving forward. Finally, there were some queries on how to engage leadership and lower tier workers and what arguments could be used to get commitment from management when there was no perceivable commercial benefit.



Chris Rowlands kicked off the conversation by asking what the perceived benefits are of the new system? Alison from Integral commented that for them a major aspect of the system that appealed was increased worker involvement in decision making as this could be a huge positive for the company. Chris then asked whether there was a difference between process vs procedural impact and used the example of Network Rail now completing method statements by video – is there a theme of more process focused work rather than documentation focused?

Mike from Finlays believed ISO 45001 to have great potential, and is well suited to international companies, particularly in relation to worker engagement, citing that, with 30k employees, around 20k of who were field workers, achieving effective communications, engagement and empowerment was always a challenge, and ISO 45001 provides a great opportunity to look at doing things differently, including making greater use of social media, relying much less on documentation, and to being really innovative in how we meet both the standard and organisational needs.



Annette asked Chris Ward whether in his previous role in enforcement, whether he would have accepted this sort of media-based evidence, and what it is that the HSE looks for, and Chris pointed out that the HSE have always been more interested in a timeline of evidence rather than certifications. He suggested that for example having a photo of sites and workers before starting a job would be great evidence of protective gear, guard rails etc being in place and that this would be taken as strong evidence of a system being followed.

Sara from Atlas commented that in the last 5 years they have transformed their internal audit process by using exactly these sorts of innovations, such as developing software that is worker focused and able to gather data, enabling them to spot gaps in the implementation of their system – what do they do well, and what are people not following.

A number of people raised their concerns that accreditations are sometimes used as proof that a system is working, when the shop floor reality can be very different and queried whether it was more important to have an accredited system or a working system.

Chris Ward agreed and pointed out that the new system allowed for an initial stage of self-verification (1st party audit/self-audit) meaning that a company could look at incremental changes with real impact, without the cost of external auditors and/or certification.



"A number of people raised their concerns that accreditations are sometimes used as proof that a system is working, when the shop floor reality can be very different and queried whether it was more important to have an accredited system or a working system."



Steve from the AA wondered if Chris could share an insight into the differences between HSG65 and the 45001, and which the HSE would promote. Chris W, as an author of 65 said that HSG65 has stood the test of time, but it was not developed as an auditable standard. 45001 serves a different purpose although both are based on the PDCA process. He understood HSE were contributing to the development of the BS 45001 standard supplements with the aim of making them more accessible to SMEs. He also pointed out however that the HSE doesn’t use ISOs or BS as a basis of inspection, because the Management of Health and Safety regulations take precedent.

Steve said that within his company, buy in from the top has massively helped them and Chris W agreed that top management has to be involved at all levels for this to work. The new system is an opportunity for all different factions to work more closely and could be a catalyst for change, as it will be impossible for top management to remain siloed as they may have previously. The system really enhances and fosters team working within a business – something which could only be a benefit.

Graham (ex Turner and Townsend) had mentioned in his introduction that when implementing systems in his old role, of all regions Europe had proved the most resistant to implementation of systems and Chris Rowlands asked at this stage why this was the case?

Graham pointed out that a lot of their European enterprises were more property focused whereas Americas, Australasia and the Middle East tend to have more of a focus on high hazard and oil and gas where standards are expected as a rule. Chris Ward added to this by mentioning that during the consultation process, only 7 countries voted against the standard and that 4 of those were European – so there was some correlation with what Graham stated, potentially because some of these European countries are still very prescriptive in nature and less open to the Standard’s objective setting approach.

Mike posed a query around Integrated Systems that was well received by the group, in that they would love to have more of an integrated approach at Finlays, but that he felt certification bodies seem less willing to push integrated accreditations, possibly from a monetary perspective i.e. there would be the potential to only pay for one certification, albeit a wider ranging one, than three, which resonated with a number of people. He genuinely believes that IMS are the way ahead, and a great way of helping embed H&S in business models.



The conversation then moved onto the clause of worker engagement within the system – Allison from Integral said they would love to get more engagement from shop level such as engineers or cleaners but that also they don’t want to be heading to head office for meetings etc. Within their company they had proposed a series of safety conversations across all types of trade instead to encourage engagement and wondered if Chris Ward thought this “cut the mustard” when auditing against the new system. He thought that solutions are more likely to be successful if they are personalised to each organisation, but the place for the traditional safety committee and meetings approach was now being left behind with the changing working patterns and technology opportunities. He noted the organisations should be seeking this type of innovative opportunity as risks and opportunities are an important feature of the Standard.

Gareth from Realys mentioned some of the technology they use in order to help with engagement similar to that which Allison was querying, such as SLACK – a type of cloud-based team collaboration tool that essentially acts as a large WhatsApp group. Within Realys they use this and have a “safety channel” where queries can be raised, information shared with searchable and auditable conversations (with the added bonus of cutting down on email communications). This was of great interest to most in the group – thanks Gareth!

These sorts of innovation are all verifiable within the new system and go to show how well taking the focus away from documentation and more onto process can work – helping to foster a better culture throughout all levels.

Megan ended this part of the round table by talking about the metrics behind the data – and commented that whatever you do the metrics do still have to be there. She used the example of when she worked at Sydney Opera House, they had paper-based safety bulletins that were on notice boards and put into pigeon holes. After noticing a number being crumpled up and tossed aside (!) they changed their approach and transferred these to digital. They were then sent out via email but with an email marketing tool that monitored how many were being read, the click through rate and data on what people were reading and interested in. This enabled them to notice the focus on positive news and people centric information, helping to gain greater engagement in future digital bulletins. This emphasised the point that data needs to be backed up and measurable in whatever form it takes.



"That solutions are more likely to be successful if they are personalised to each organisation, but the place for the traditional safety committee and meetings approach was now being left behind with the changing working patterns and technology opportunities."



After a brief comfort break we asked the delegates to each propose one question or theme they could take away or still wanted answers to. Timescales were a factor – with Chris Ward saying this was hard to judge depending on how far through you were already. He suggested a good transition period should be around 6 months. This lead to questions on the current lead auditor qualification and whether there was a qualification out currently for the new system. Chris said a number of organisations (including his own) do have suitable IRCA certified auditor training as well as foundation and transition training. Julie from System Concepts had already attended BSI training, which she said had been very informative and enjoyable and encouraged all to look into it.

Shurene also asked Chris to expand on the liability issue he mentioned in his presentation – Chris W explained that an audit would really test leadership and commitment. There is a real need for auditors to explore the extent and content of knowledge by top management. They must be able to prove/demonstrate hands on knowledge about their OHSMS and state of compliance. The Standard lists over 13 action points for them to demonstrate commitment.

Mike mentioned that within Finlays they are starting to shift from a culture of safety (a progressive OHS culture is expected in the Standard) to a culture of excellence, in which safety is massively embedded, but this brings with it some challenges around performance indicators and how effectively you can measure culture within an organisation. At Finlays they have developed a safety culture assessment tool that is being piloted in September that they hope will provide a reasonable measure whilst also identifying opportunities for improvement, and this should support the ISO 45001 system approach very well.

Unfortunately, at this point our time ran out, although I think we all could have carried on discussing this for hours more! The round table was a fantastic opportunity for peers to discuss and debate ideas and innovations, and gain confidence that their approach to the new system was correct. We would like to thank all of our delegates for their invaluable contributions and would love to hear more if they have any further thoughts. Thanks also to Megan and the team at Imagination for ably hosting us (and serving up some yummy breakfast to fuel our brains), and obviously to Chris Ward for leading us through the discussion and answering all of our questions!


If you are interested in further round table events or have any comments or queries on this one and the ISO 45001 system – please do get in touch and let us know via email or via our contact form.


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