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Overcoming the 3 key challenges of ISO 45001 implementation in SMEs

Employee well-being and health and safety are just as critical to SMEs (small to medium-sized enterprises) as they are to larger organizations, but any SME looking to certify its OHSMS (Operational Health and Safety Management System) to ISO 45001:2018 will encounter some significant and unique challenges. So, what are the main three challenges, and what reasonable steps can an SME take to overcome them?

The main challenges for the SME

In a previous article, 5 tips for overcoming the biggest challenges in the ISO 45001 implementation, we considered the overall challenges that an organization may face during the journey to ISO 45001 compliance and certification, and while these remain valid, it is true that there are some significantly more basic challenges that the SME might face. Let us examine them in some detail.

1) Cost – we can’t afford it. Most SMEs are working on a tight budget, making the cost of establishing an OHSMS and gaining certification against ISO 45001 a real factor. We examined this topic in the previous article How much does ISO 45001 implementation cost? and while there is undoubtedly a real time and financial cost, there are almost always future returns that mean the initial investment is repaid many time over. For example, ISO 45001 certification often means that SMEs can tender for the same contracts that larger organizations can – for many tenders in many sectors, ISO 45001 is an entry-level requirement – and in many cases, winning one of these contracts can provide the financial return to justify the outlay of certifying your OHSMS. In other words, an SME cannot be considered inferior to a larger organization, but if the larger organization has ISO 45001 certification and the SME doesn’t, then the SME is unlikely to win contracts in that context. One other major considerations is this: if an SME has a major accident or is found to be in breach of local legislation, the financial penalties can be much larger than the initial cost of implementing ISO 45001, and that, coupled with the potential loss of reputation that accidents and legislation breaches bring, makes ISO 45001 a smart decision. Another element to consider is that in many regions, financial assistance is available for SMEs considering such vital projects as ISO 45001 implementation, so it is always worth inquiring with your local governmental departments.

2) We don’t have the expertise. It stands to reason that an SME will have a lower headcount than a larger business, so the chances that an SME has a dedicated OH&S expert are, of course, lower than those of a bigger organization. So, where do you start? For starters, buy the ISO 45001 standard, and become familiar with the requirements. Secondly, consider assigning a project manager to the implementation project. In the article Who is the ideal Project Manager for your ISO 45001 project? we considered what type of person would be best for this task, and you are likely to have a person in your organization who meets at least some of the criteria. There are also many forms of online help available to help raise your knowledge levels, and tools such as online toolkits from the 45001Academy can help bridge the gap between your current skillset and the level your SME needs to achieve.

3) We don’t have the resources and time to make it work. Again, this is a common complaint. The good news is that an efficiently run OHSMS doesn’t take huge amounts of resources and time to maintain – as long as the OH&S is viewed as important and is valued by all employees, and workloads are planned, shared, and delegated. In a previous article we asked: Where does OH&S fit into your organization? and gave some suggestions on how to build a culture of health and safety. Likewise, ensuring your employees have the correct knowledge, training, and awareness will not only improve your OH&S performance, but will also equip employees to play a part in risk identification and assessment, participate in OH&S forums and meetings, and make suggestions to improve your SME’s performance. The article The importance of awareness training in ISO 45001 can provide you with extra information on this element.

ISO 45001 for SMEs: Identifying the opportunity

While there are challenges for the SME looking to implement ISO 45001, the opportunities are many and nearly always outweigh the costs. Most progressive SMEs will realize that expansion is very difficult if contract requirements of potential customers and government bodies are not met, and compliance with legislation is not achieved. By implementing ISO 45001 in many sectors, the progressive SME should be able to see the opportunity to gain a competitive edge on its peers by implementing the standard, and by being able to evidence an excellent OH&S record to potential customers. Given that it is generally accepted that employee engagement, loyalty, and trust is enhanced by the adoption of ISO 45001, then the benefits to your SME will be reflected both in the financial health of your company, and in the health and well-being of your growing team. Why not start your ISO 45001 implementation today?

Use this free Project Proposal for ISO 45001 implementation to better organize your implementation project and be ready to face any challenges.

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.