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Defining the context of the organization according to ISO 45001

Updated 2018-11-13 according to ISO 45001

March 2018 saw OHSAS 18001 replaced by a new standard: ISO 45001. The new standard is in the same (Annex SL) format as the ISO 9001 & 14001 standards, so those familiar with this established format will have an idea of what to expect in terms of structure. In terms of content, ISO 45001 lets us see that one of the new and critical parts of the OH&S management system will be in section 4, where there is now a requirement for determining the “context of the organization.” This section is much more detailed than in OHSAS 18001 and very much in line with the 9001 & 14001 standards. So, what exactly does defining the context of the organization mean, and how do we go about it with respect to our OH&S system?

Context of the organization: How and why?

Given that the way in which businesses operate and their impacts have changed in the last ten years with the growth of the internet and trading across borders, you can see why defining the context of your organization has become a key part of the ISO standards. OH&S is no different, in that organizations have more and wider-reaching issues to consider when planning the operation of the OH&S system itself. So, when defining the context of your organization, what do you need to consider?

Firstly, let us look at the internal issues we can consider:

  • The competence of your workforce
  • The commitment of your people
  • The willingness to co-operate and keep within stated parameters
  • Your communication methodologies and their effectiveness

And critically, the external factors:

  • Legislation and local laws: Obviously, this is critical to your OH&S system and the well-being of your employees.
  • Economic and political conditions: These may have to be reflected in your policies, programs, and objectives.
  • Union expectations: Again, this is an aspect that may have to be considered when defining your organizational context.
  • Stakeholders and shareholders: Whether considered internal or external, their expectations will need to be considered.
  • National or international agencies: These external bodies may also have advice or requirements that will require redefinition of your organizational parameters.

So, as we can see above there are many issues – both internal and external – that can change the way we define the “context of the organization” for the purpose of the OH&S system. Only when all of them are considered and defined can we say that we have performed this task, setting the scene for the OH&S system to be as effective as possible. Documenting this process is also advised, in order for your organization to be able to share this with stakeholders and auditors, and to enable a constant review of these parameters to take place in our ever-changing world.

Defining the context of the organization: The benefits

Complying with laws and regulations is one major benefit of carrying out this new requirement, which will protect your organization from both a legislative and financial penalty point of view. But, as ever, the well-being of your workforce is the ultimate goal and the most critical benefit. Ensuring the operations your organization undertakes to produce the goods and services it does are considered will ensure that your definition of context remains relevant. In the modern world, with its ever-changing demands, this is more critical than ever. Recent discoveries over more modern illnesses such as repetitive strains, stress, and depression mean that legislation will continue to change, and if your definition is documented, you can effectively make changes to ensure the information you deliver through your OH&S remains relevant and topical. This is where the most tangible benefit will be seen, in allowing your OH&S system to promote prevention as opposed to delivering cure. And to your workforce, that will be the biggest benefit of all.

To find out more about transitioning from OHSAS 18001 to ISO 45001, download this free white paper: Twelve step transition process from OHSAS 18001 to ISO 45001.

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.