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11 occupational health and safety principles and how to apply them in your ISO 45001 project

ISO 9001 is based on quality principles. ISO 19011 is based on auditing principles. Just as principles are important for many of the ISO standards, ISO 45001:2018 is also based on several principles, although they are not explicitly listed in the body of the standard.

A number of key principles underpin the field of occupational safety and health. These principles and the provisions of international labor standards are all designed to achieve a vital objective: that work should take place in a safe and healthy environment.

11 pillars of a safe working environment

Occupational safety and health is an extensive multidisciplinary field, invariably touching on issues related to scientific areas such as medicine – including physiology and toxicology – ergonomics, physics and chemistry, as well as technology, economics, law, and other areas specific to various industries and activities. Despite this variety of concerns and interests, certain basic principles can be identified, including the following:

  • All workers have rights. Workers, as well as employers and governments, must ensure that these rights are protected and must strive to establish and maintain decent working conditions and a decent working environment. More specifically:
    • work should take place in a safe and healthy working environment;
    • conditions of work should be consistent with workers’ well-being and human dignity;
    • work should offer real possibilities for personal achievement, self-fulfillment, and service to society.
  • Occupational safety and health policies must be established. Such policies must be implemented at both the national (governmental) and enterprise levels. They must be effectively communicated to all parties concerned.
  • Social partners (that is, employers and workers) and other stakeholders must be consulted. This should be done during formulation, implementation, and review of all policies, systems, and programs.
  • Occupational safety and health programs and policies must aim at both prevention and protection. Efforts must be focused, above all, on primary prevention at the workplace level. Workplaces and working environments should be planned and designed to be safe and healthy.
  • Continuous improvement of occupational safety and health must be promoted. This is necessary to ensure that national laws, regulations, and technical standards to prevent occupational injuries, diseases, and deaths are adapted periodically to social, technical, and scientific progress and other changes in the world of work. It is best done by the development and implementation of a national policy, national system, and national program.
  • Information is vital for the development and implementation of effective programs and policies. The collection and dissemination of accurate information on hazards and hazardous materials, surveillance of workplaces, monitoring of compliance with policies and good practice, and other related activities are central to the establishment and enforcement of effective policies.
  • Health promotion is a central element of occupational health practice. Efforts must be made to enhance workers’ physical, mental, and social well-being.
  • Occupational health services covering all workers should be established. Ideally, all workers in all categories of economic activity should have access to such services, which aim to protect and promote workers’ health and improve working conditions.
  • Education and training are vital components of safe, healthy working environments. Workers and employers must be made aware of the importance of establishing safe working procedures and of how to do so. Trainers must be trained in areas of special relevance to particular industries, so that they can address the specific occupational safety and health concerns.
  • Workers, employers and competent authorities have certain responsibilities, duties, and obligations. For example, workers must follow established safety procedures; employers must provide safe workplaces and ensure access to first aid; and the competent authorities must devise, communicate, and periodically review and update occupational safety and health policies.
  • Policies must be enforced. A system of inspection must be in place to secure compliance with occupational safety and health measures and other labor legislation.

Never-ending list

Clearly, some overlap exists among these general principles. For example, the gathering and dissemination of information on various facets of occupational safety and health underlies all the activities described. Information is needed for the prevention as well as the treatment of occupational injuries and diseases. It is also needed for the creation of effective policies and to ensure that they are enforced. Education and training demand information.

While these key principles structure occupational safety and health programs and policies, the above list is by no means exhaustive. More specialized areas have corresponding principles of their own. Moreover, ethical considerations regarding such matters as individuals’ rights to privacy must be taken into consideration when devising an occupational health and safety management system.

To learn more about ISO 45001 implementation process and steps, download this free Diagram of the ISO 45001 Implementation Process.

Advisera Strahinja Stojanovic
Strahinja Stojanovic

Strahinja Stojanovic is certified as a lead auditor for the ISO 13485, ISO 9001, ISO 14001, and OHSAS 18001 standards by RABQSA. He participated in the implementation of these standards in more than 100 SMEs, through the creation of documentation and performing in-house training for maintaining management systems, internal audits, and management reviews.