The importance of the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle in ISO 45001

The “Plan, Do, Check, Act” (PDCA) cycle is widely regarded as a staple of the ISO 9001 and 14001 standards, but it is also a critical aspect of the ISO 45001:2018 standard, and therefore any OH&S (Operational Health and Safety) System. In previous articles, such as 4 key benefits of ISO 45001 for your business, we have examined the importance of ISO 45001, and within the standard itself the PCDA cycle is of key importance. The PCDA cycle can simply be described as:

  • Plan: establish the objectives and processes necessary to deliver results in accordance with the organization’s OH&S Policy
  • Do: implement the above
  • Check: monitor and measure the process against the OH&S Policy, objectives, and legal requirements, and report results
  • Act: take action to continually improve performance

ISO 9001 also promotes the use of what is known as the “process approach,” and since the PDCA cycle is regarded as being compatible with this, the two methods can be used together to drive results and improvement within your OH&S System. So, given that this is a widely accepted working methodology, where exactly does it fit and where can it be utilized within an ISO 45001 compliant system?

PDCA – Where does it apply?

An element of the PDCA cycle runs all the way through the ISO 45001 standard. When you write your OH&S Policy and identify objectives and plans, this constitutes the first instance of “Plan.” Considering and constructing the processes to meet these objectives constitutes the “Do” segment, and the review and adjustment cover the “Check” and “Act,” respectively. So, even in the construction of the OH&S Policy itself, the PDCA cycle is used, whether knowingly or not. However, using the cycle consciously and constructively can be hugely beneficial. But, where, specifically?

PDCA – Where to use it for maximum benefit

If you now consider the PDCA cycle differently than before, perhaps it’s time to look at the ISO 45001 standard again with new eyes. It should be the case that you see evidence of the PDCA cycle almost everywhere. Let us look at some clauses by way of example:

  • Clause 6, Planning: This section deals specifically with identification of hazards, risk assessment, and controls. It is easy to imagine why this is vital to the performance of any OH&S System. This is clearly a part of the “Plan” phase, and if this planning and identification is not executed correctly, then your OH&S System will ultimately fail to meet its objectives and incidents will occur because of poor planning.
  • Clause 7 & 8, Support and operation: This is clearly part of the “Do” segment of the cycle. When carefully considering aspects such as resources and construction of processes, it is again very easy to see that an OH&S System’s performance can clearly be compromised by shortcomings in this part of the cycle.
  • Clause 9, Performance Evaluation: Dealing specifically with performance monitoring and measuring, internal audit and management review which can be defined as the “Check” segment of the cycle. Accurate recording of data for analysis is again critical to providing a basis for action, and encouraging continual systemic improvement to take place.
  • Clause 10, Improvement: This requirement underpins the ISO 45001 standard and provides the “Act” part of the cycle. Whether by formal ISO 45001 processes such as incident, nonconformity and corrective action, or through employee suggestion or internal improvement initiatives, this is critical to tie the whole PDCA cycle together effectively and produce results.

As suggested above, it is now possible to look at all clauses of the ISO 45001 standard and view each one as part of the cycle in one form or another. So, why is this an approved methodology, and what advantage does it give us by using it?

PDCA – The benefits

Hopefully, from the previous section it is now easier to see how the PDCA cycle works, and indeed how interdependent all the four parts are with each other. Underperformance in any one part of the cycle, whether that is poor planning, poor execution, inaccurate data gathering, or ineffective processes, only adds up to one thing: underperformance of the OH&S System and failure to meet objectives. Therefore, the importance of correct execution of the PDCA cycle cannot be underestimated. Likewise, the benefits of performing all parts of the cycle are huge, and the probabilities of meeting your objectives increase greatly. Making the “Plan, Do, Check, Act” cycle the fulcrum of your OH&S System will protect your employees and stakeholders, enhance your business reputation, and give you maximum chance of ISO 45001 accreditation.

Why not use our free  Gap Analysis Tool to compare your OH&S System with the ISO 45001 standard?

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.