OHSAS 18001: What is it, how does it work and why use it?


What is OHSAS 18001?

OHSAS 18001, Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems – Requirements (officially BS OHSAS 18001, but often mistakenly called ISO 18001) is a British Standard for occupational health and safety management systems that is recognized and implemented worldwide.

What are the simple basics of OHSAS 18001?

OHSAS 18001, Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems – Requirements (officially BS OHSAS 18001, but often mistakenly called ISO 18001) is a British Standard for occupational health and safety management systems that is recognized and implemented worldwide. The most recent version of this standard was published in 2007, and is referred to as “OHSAS 18001:2007.”

What is an occupational health & safety management system?

An occupational health & safety management system, often called an OH&SMS, is comprised of the policies, processes, plans, practices, and records that define the rules governing how your company takes care about occupational health and safety. This system needs to be tailored to your particular company, because only your company will have the exact legal requirements and occupational health & safety hazards that match your specific business processes. However, the OHSAS 18001 requirements provide a framework and guidelines for creating your occupational health & safety management system so that you do not miss important elements needed for an OH&SMS to be successful.

Getting to the heart of why OHSAS 18001 is important

Taking care of occupational health and safety and preventing injuries in the work place are among the most important challenges facing businesses today. One of the biggest benefits of implementing an OH&SMS is the recognition that comes with being among those businesses that care for its employees’ health and safety. This can bring better relationships with customers, the public, and the community at large for your company, but it also brings other benefits.

Along with the good public image, many companies can save money through the implementation of an occupational health & safety management system. This can be achieved through reducing incidents that can result in workers’ injuries, and being able to obtain insurance at a more reasonable cost. This improvement in cost control is a benefit that cannot be overlooked when making the decision to implement an occupational health & safety management system.

What does OHSAS 18001 actually look like?

The OHSAS 18001 structure is split into four sections. The first three are introductory, with the last section, split into six sub-sections, containing the requirements for the environmental management system. Here is what the six sub-sections are about:

  1. Section 4.1: General Requirements
  2. Section 4.2: OH&S Policy
  3. Section 4.3: Planning
  4. Section 4.4: Implementation and Operation
  5. Section 4.5: Checking
  6. Section 4.6: Management Review

Section 4.1: General Requirements – This section provides an overall statement that the occupational health & safety management system needs to be established, documented, implemented, maintained, and continually improved according to the requirements of the OHSAS 18001 standard. This highlights that the OH&SMS is not a one-time activity to be done and then forgotten, but instead is intended to be maintained to promote improvement.

Section 4.2: OH&S Policy – The occupational health & safety policy helps to set the overall goals to meet the scope of the occupational health & safety management system. The policy includes the company’s commitment to comply with legal requirements, prevent injury and bad health, and continually improve. It also provides the overall framework to set the objectives for the OH&SMS.

Section 4.3: Planning – There are three parts to the planning process for the OHSAS 18001. First, the company needs to identify the hazards and assess the risks for every work place. Next, the company needs to identify the legal and other requirements that pertain to the identified hazards and operational processes and ensure that they are understood and implemented. Lastly, objectives and programs for improvement of the occupational health & safety management system need to be put in place with appropriate resources to accomplish the goals.

Section 4.4: Implementation and Operation  This section has many elements to consider, starting with the assignment of resources, roles, responsibilities, and authorities. Once this is in place you must ensure that competence, training, awareness, and communication (both internal and external to the company) are established for the functioning of the OH&SMS. Documentation and control of documents is required to ensure consistency, as is putting in place operational controls and processes for emergency preparedness and response to ensure that there is uniformity where required.

Section 4.5: Checking – The monitoring and measurement, including evaluation of compliance with legal and other requirements, are necessary to ensure that decisions can be made. Part of this is dealing with nonconformity, corrective action, preventive action, and auditing the processes in place. Without these elements, and the records associated with them, it is almost impossible to tell if things are going according to plan.

Section 4.6: Management Review – Hand in hand with the records from the checking requirement is this requirement for management to review the recorded outputs in order to ensure that actions are progressing according to plan, and to guarantee that adequate resources are applied to meet the requirements.

These sections are based on a Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, which uses these elements to implement change within the processes of the organization in order to drive and maintain improvements within the processes.


Why should you implement OHSAS 18001 in your organization?

The benefits of OHSAS 18001 cannot be overstated; companies large and small have used this standard to great effect, as mentioned above. Here are just a few of these benefits:

Improve your image and credibility  By assuring customers that you have a commitment to demonstrable management of occupational health and safety, you can enhance your image and market share through maintaining a good public image and improved community relations.

Improve cost control – One improvement that all companies are looking for is reduction of costs. The OH&SMS can help with this by increasing rating at insurance companies, while reducing occupational health and safety incidents that may lead to lawsuits and deterioration of the company’s image.

Use evidence-based decision making – By ensuring that you are using accurate data to make your decisions on what to improve, you can greatly increase the chances that your improvements will be successful the first time, rather than having several unsuccessful attempts. By using this data to track your progress, you can correct these improvement initiatives before they go “off the rails,” which can save costs and time.

Create a culture of continual improvement – With continual improvement, you can work toward better processes and reduced occupational health and safety hazards in a systematic way in order to improve your public image and potentially reduce your costs, as identified above. When a culture of improvement is created, people are always looking for ways to make their processes better, which makes maintaining the OH&SMS easier.

Engage your people – Given a choice between working for a company that shows care and concern for occupational health and safety and one that does not, most people would prefer the first company. By engaging your employees in a group effort to reduce your occupational health and safety hazards, you can increase employee focus and retention.

What are the practical steps to becoming OHSAS 18001 certified?

What is OHSAS 18001 certification?

There are two types of certification: certification of a company’s occupational health & safety management system against the OHSAS 18001 requirements, and certification of individuals to be able to audit against the OHSAS 18001 requirements. This section discusses the steps for a company to implement an OHSAS 18001 occupational health & safety management system and have it certified.

OHSAS 18001 certification for your company involves implementing an OH&SMS based on the OHSAS 18001 requirements, and then hiring a recognized certification body to audit and approve your OH&SMS as meeting the requirements of the OHSAS 18001 standard.

Starting with management support and identifying the legal requirements for the OH&SMS, you will need to start with defining your OH&S policy, occupational health and safety hazards, and OH&S objectives and targets, which together define the overall scope and implementation of the occupational health & safety management system. Along with these, you will need to create the mandatory and additional processes and procedures necessary for your organization’s operations. There are several mandatory processes that need to be included, and others to be added as the company finds them necessary. For a good explanation on this, take a look at this white paper on Checklist of Mandatory Documentation Required by OHSAS 18001:2007.

This creation of documents and records can be done internally by your company, or you can get help through hiring a consultant or purchasing standard documentation. To see samples of documentation, visit this free OHSAS 18001 downloads page.

Once all of the processes and procedures are in place, you will need to operate the OH&SMS for a period of time. By doing this, you will be able to collect the records necessary to go to the next steps: auditing and reviewing your system and becoming certified.

Mandatory steps to finish implementation and get your company certified

After finishing all your documentation and implementing it, your organization also needs to perform these steps to ensure a successful certification:

Internal audit – The internal audit is in place for you to check your OH&SMS processes. The goal is to ensure that records are in place to confirm compliance of the processes and to find problems and weaknesses that would otherwise stay hidden.  

Management review – This is a formal review by your management to evaluate the relevant facts about the management system processes in order to make appropriate decisions and assign resources.

Corrective actions  Following the internal audit and management review, you need to correct the root cause of any identified problems and document how they were resolved.

The company certification process is divided into two stages:

Stage One (documentation review) – The auditors from your chosen certification body will check to ensure your documentation meets the requirements of OHSAS 18001.

Stage Two (main audit) – Here, the certification body auditors will check whether your actual activities are compliant with both OHSAS 18001 and your own documentation by reviewing documents, records, and company practices.

What OHSAS 18001 training and certification are available if you’re an individual?

Training in the concepts of OHSAS 18001 is available, and there are a range of course options for individuals to choose from. Only the first of the courses mentioned below can lead to certification for the individual to be able to audit for a certification body, but the others are very useful for those who will be using these skills within their own company:

OHSAS 18001 Lead Auditor Course – This is a four- to five-day training course focused on understanding the OHSAS 18001 OH&SMS standard and being able to use it for auditing management systems against these requirements. The course includes an exam at the end to verify knowledge and competence, and it is only with an accredited course that an individual can become approved to audit for a certification body.

OHSAS 18001Internal Auditor Course – This is commonly a two- or three-day course that is based on the lead auditor course above, but does not include the test for competence, so this is most useful for someone beginning to do internal audits within a company.

OHSAS 18001 Awareness and Implementation Course – Several courses are offered that provide knowledge of OHSAS 18001 and how to implement it. These can be one- or two- or even five-day courses, and can even include online e-learning sessions as a method of teaching the material. These courses are good for those who need an overview of the OHSAS 18001 standard, or those who will be involved in the implementation within a company, and many are more economical than investing in the lead auditor course for those involved at this level.

There are a number of accredited training organizations around the world where you can gain individual qualifications in OHSAS 18001.

To learn more about OHSAS 18001 implementation, please visit our OHSAS 18001 Learning Center. You’ll find a host of helpful resources, including free OHSAS 18001 downloads.

Advisera Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar
Mark Hammar is a Certified Manager of Quality / Organizational Excellence through the American Society for Quality and has been a Quality Professional since 1994. Mark has experience in auditing, improving processes, and writing procedures for Quality, Environmental, and Occupational Health & Safety Management Systems, and is certified as a Lead Auditor for ISO 9001, AS9100, and ISO 14001.