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A case study for applying OHSAS 18001 in an office environment

When most people think of OHSAS 18001, they think of its application in regard to traditional manufacturing and engineering businesses where hazards are obvious, and incidents likely to occur. However, it occurred to me recently that the establishment of an OH&SMS (Operational Health and Safety and Management System) in an office environment could be just as important to that respective organization when I recently helped a company to establish one and prepare for the ensuing certification audit. This case study examines why this should be the case, and the particular elements of OHSAS 18001 worth bearing in mind when you pursue implementation and certification for your office.

OHSAS 18001 in the office: The basics

It goes without saying that any office, whether seeking OHSAS 18001 accreditation or not, should establish an OH&S Policy, with objectives, methods of identifying risks and dealing with hazards and so forth, and this office was no different in that respect. Legal requirements and legislation had to be understood and implemented where necessary, and resources, responsibility, and accountability all factored into the OH&SMS, as well as the necessary elements of leadership and communication required to ensure the system functioned efficiently. Participation and consultation had to be considered, and competence and awareness supplemented by considerations of what processes needed documenting, and whatever training needs existed. However, with this organization it only became clear how vital the performance of the OH&SMS might become when the KPIs (key performance indicators) and objectives of the system came to be considered and discussed, and the elements of the OH&SMS functions that influenced these KPIs were identified. So, what were these factors and how might they affect your OHSAS 18001 office implementation?

KPIs that help measure your OHSAS 18001 office performance

During the discussion over KPIs for this office environment it became clear that while hazards and risks were greatly different from more manual sectors such as building or engineering, they existed nonetheless. As well as measuring incidents, it was decided to measure employee absence rates against the national average, for example. When this measure was set up and analyzed, the significance of two long-term absences on this measure was realized, and after investigation it became obvious that this was due to posture issues and lack of knowledge on DSE (display screen equipment) issues. Therefore, through establishing and discussing the worth of this particular KPI, a program of risk assessment, education, training, and consultation began on how to mitigate this risk in the future. Similarly, when knowledge of a vital process such as Fire Safety and building evacuation was measured, it was found that there were great inconsistencies amongst employees, which could lead to major danger in the event of fire. Not only did this risk have to be assessed and mitigated, but particular danger was identified for disabled employees or visitors as a result of the building being on the third floor. This led to a risk assessment on the shared lift in the building, and the realization that a preventive maintenance program would have to be established to mitigate this risk. Therefore, a KPI was established to measure preventive maintenance events to mitigate this and other risks, and a training program was established to ensure that the correct knowledge was available to the workforce – which in turn was measured by a health and safety questionnaire to employees on a six-monthly basis, whereby actions could be agreed upon if results fell below a certain level. So, given that discussing and formulating these KPIs identified underlying risks and issues, what elements of the OHSAS 18001 standard itself were important to establishing a safe office environment?

OHSAS 18001: How to make it work for your office

It is critical that your office organization studies the standard and ensures that it meets all the terms and clauses, but this organization discovered that these particular elements of the standard were of particular emphasis in establishing a safe office environment:

  • Competence, training and awareness: It goes without saying that hazard and risk identification is at the heart of any efficient OH&SMS, but this office found that this element proved key. Ensuring that knowledge is correct, shared efficiently, and refreshed in a timely manner ensured that the workforce had the necessary information to meet the stated objectives. The article The importance of training and awareness in OHSAS 18001 will provide useful insight into this element.
  • Participation and consultation: This clause was central to the operation of the OH&SMS within the office. Participation, feedback, and advice from employees is undoubtedly the most effective way of identifying previously undiscovered hazards and risks, and at the same time establishing the importance of OH&S within any organization. The article How to meet participation and consultation requirements in ISO 45001 can help provide in-depth guidance on this subject.
  • Corrective and preventive action: Closely related to the enhanced risk element that will replace preventive action in ISO 45001 when it replaces OHSAS 18001, this is central to improving performance and mitigating and removing the likelihood of incidents occurring. Corrections vs. Corrective actions in OHSAS 18001 will provide more information on this topic.

So, were there any more lessons to be learned from this office-based OH&S project?

Getting the best outcome

It soon became clear to the people involved in this project that the same OH&S principles should be used in an office as anywhere else, but using employee consultation to identify hazards and prevent incidents is key. The upkeep of training to ensure that knowledge flows through the correct communication channel is also vital, and by this method the desired culture of health and safety can be established. As a result, employee attendance and well-being improved dramatically, with the subsequent cost savings for the organization being measurable against the previous year’s results. The outcome: health, well-being, and financial benefits. Surely this is a reason for your office to consider OHSAS 18001?

Use our free  Gap Analysis Tool to see how your OH&SMS measures up against the 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.