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5 tips for overcoming the biggest challenges in the ISO 45001 implementation

If you have implemented the ISO 45001:2018 requirements and a certified OHSMS (Occupational Health & Safety Management System), you will be aware that there are many challenges that a first-time implementation can bring. In our previous article 5 tips to make your ISO 45001 implementation project successful we looked at some tips to smooth your implementation, and while that advice provides excellent guidance, there are normally some cultural and physical barriers that the implementation manager must overcome to ensure that the implementation project is successful. Similarly, there are some elements of the ISO 45001 standard that can be concentrated on to help overcome these barriers. So, what are they and how can they be tackled?

Identifying and overcoming your biggest implementation challenges

Depending on your own work environment, there are several factors that you may well have to overcome to establish your OH&SMS. Let’s look at them, and what parts of the ISO 45001 standard itself can help you:

1) Establishing a culture of health and safety. Most organizations that have not had a formal OHSMS may tend to underestimate the importance of health and safety to the workplace, and you may find that many employees don’t consider health and safety to be a priority, as any present risks or dangers may not yet have resulted in incidents or accidents. This will need to be overcome to prevent any accidents from occurring. Sections 7.2 and 7.3 of the standard can help here; these deal with competence and awareness. Ensure that your employees and stakeholders are trained; made aware in terms of objectives, plans, and information to assist good health and safety performance; and consulted. Engage your team, value the opinions they give, and they will generally tend to believe in the OHSMS that they help to create themselves.

2) Meeting legislation: The success of your OHSMS will depend, in the first instance, on your ability to meet the legislation in whatever part of the world your company operates in. Therefore, it is important that you have a specialist in this field, whether internal or externally hired, to make sure that your OHSMS rules and initiatives meet the required legislation when you set up. If you choose to use an internal candidate, you must ensure he/she has the knowledge and ability. Likewise, if you hire externally, it is advisable to ask for references to ensure the candidate can deliver the legislation compliance details that you need.

3) Top management support. This is critical in establishing an effective OHSMS. From commitment to the project, and emphasis on the importance of health and safety through leading by example, to the criticality of communication, you will undoubtedly have a more difficult job implementing an OHSMS without this vital ingredient. Section 5.3 deals with roles, responsibilities and authority. This leaves us in no doubts as to the onus on top management to show its commitment to the OHSMS, how these management members must be known to all employees, and how they must play a part in defining authority and responsibility within the OHSMS. As the implementation manager, you can use this element of the standard to ensure your top team lead by example, communicate effectively, and demonstrate the importance of an effective OHSMS to the employees. This behavior from the top team can make an implementation much smoother than otherwise. Read more about this topic in the article How to demonstrate leadership according to ISO/DIS 45001.

4) Support of the team. One person will have a mammoth task establishing an OHSMS in all but the smallest of micro businesses; therefore, having the assistance of other like-minded employees and team members is critical. Whether is through delivering formal roles and responsibilities, or seeking help more informally, your implementation project will be much more difficult without the support and expertise of team members, who may have more expertise and knowledge of the company and its products than you do yourself. Section 5.4 of the standard deals with participation and consultation. Ensuring that you communicate and consult with team members not only builds knowledge, but it builds relationship and trust between the implementation manager and the team, too. This can make your implementation much less troublesome than otherwise.

5) Organizational setup. Your organization may have multiple sites performing different functions, or even in different global locations. If one of your locations is an office and call center, and the other a manufacturing plant, they will each have different health and safety requirements. Your challenge may be made more difficult by this, and you may need to decide whether you need a “one-size-fits-all” approach, or separate provision needs to be made for different sites. Section 8.1 deals with operation control. Here you can assess your organization’s activities, processes, and controls, even across multiple sites. You can then shape your OHSMS controls to meet the needs of the sites, even if your sites produce very different outputs in terms of goods and services. Using this advice, you can prepare your respective sites for the health and safety challenges they might meet during daily operation.

Turning implementation challenges into your advantage

The challenges listed above are very common in organizations where an OHSMS is being established for the first time; however, it is possible to meet these challenges head on and use the actions described to turn the situation in your favor.  While the stated issues listed are normal in the establishment of any OHSMS, the other side of the risk of not addressing them effectively brings opportunity. Ensure your organization addresses these challenges proactively with correct planning and execution, and your OHSMS can benefit from dealing with these difficulties before they actually arise. As with most elements of OH&S, prevention is more desirable than cure, and dealing with your most commonly known challenges during the set-up period is no different. Get this right, and your OH&S performance and your employee well-being will benefit for years to come.

Why not use our free template  Project Proposal for ISO 45001 implementation to plan your ISO 45001 implementation?

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.