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Taking the lead on health and safety.

Martin Cottam Our voice on Occupational Health and Safety View profile

In this interview, Martin Cottam discusses his appointment as Chair of ISO/TC 283 – the ISO Technical Committee for Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems Standards, and what we can expect to see from the committee in the future.

Following your nomination by the Secretariat of ISO/TC 283 to the Chairman position for 2018 to 2023 we wanted to talk about your new role and your thoughts and expectations over the next five years.

What exactly does ISO/TC 283 do and what are they responsible for?

Well, this is the newly established ISO Technical Committee for Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) Management formed following a ballot of national standards bodies. This was prompted by the publication earlier this year of ISO 45001 and the consequent disbanding of the ISO Project Committee which wrote that standard. The new committee is responsible for the future maintenance and revision of ISO 45001 and it will also provide any interpretation of the standard that may be requested.

And then on top of that, it will undertake development of new OH&S standards proposed and approved by national standards bodies or other guidance in the OH&S field.

What are your expectations for the next five years as Chair of the committee?

I’m looking forward to what I suspect will be a busy period for the committee. Our first priority is to agree the work programme for the next few years and we’ll do that at our first meeting, which takes place at Coventry University in the UK in September. We’ll develop a strategic business plan for review and approval by ISO.

At this stage, I don’t know exactly what the work programme will contain but having said that, one element will be to monitor and help support the uptake of ISO 45001 internationally and to understand its impact on global OH&S performance.

You know, globally, there’s still a lot of scope to improve the health & safety of workers and we’re keen to try and ensure that ISO 45001 contributes to this. We’d like to see the adoption of this standard spread more widely than that of predecessor standards such as the well-known OHSAS 18001.

In particular, that’s going to mean trying to achieve a higher level of uptake amongst micro, small and medium enterprises, which of course represent a large component of the global economy and which are often operating with quite limited in-house OH&S expertise. And then there’ll be some new work items, the first of these is likely to be a handbook to help organisations implement ISO 45001. There is also a proposal for a guidance standard on psychological health & safety in the workplace.

What do you believe will change in the marketplace as a result of ISO 45001 being launched?

We hope that the publication of ISO 45001 will encourage more organisations to see OH&S Management as a key issue that needs the same leadership and the same structured approach as other aspects of their business. We also hope that ISO 45001 will help reinforce that Occupational Health & Safety is about a lot more than legal compliance and that when it’s well integrated into the management of an organisation good OH&S Management is actually an enabler and an asset for a business rather than a cost.

ISO 45001 will reinforce that OH&S is about more than compliance and when it’s well integrated, good OH&S management is actually an enabler and an asset rather than a cost.
Group Technical Assurance & Quality Director, LRQA Martin Cottam

What is the significance of Annex SL in relation to ISO publishing their first global OH&S standard?

Annex SL was an important step in the alignment of ISO management system standards. It helps users to see the similarities and the differences between the requirements of the different standards for example for Quality, Environment and OH&S management. And of course, that helps all those organisations who want to use a single integrated management system to meet the requirements of several standards.

It also increases the consistency of approach across the suite of ISO management system standards, which again is very helpful to users. I think ISO 45001 will particularly benefit from the adoption of Annex SL for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I hope it will encourage organisations familiar with those other ISO management system standards to see how readily OH&S can be integrated into the same management system framework including those organisations who still see OH&S as being primarily about legislative compliance. And then secondly, I hope it will encourage closer dialogue within organisations between the OH&S function and those functions responsible for Quality, Environment and other management systems. Because there’s clearly a lot of scope for collaboration and for integrated approaches to addressing the requirements that are common across all those standards.

ISO 45001 has been in the marketplace for a few months now. What has the initial reaction been from organisations and individuals responsible for managing OH&S within their company?

Well, there was a lot of discussion during the time the standard was being developed and I think at that stage, some of the content of the early drafts surprised people in terms of the extent to which it differed from OHSAS 18001. There were some concerns that the new standard might be quite prescriptive in certain areas.

One particular area of interest was what the new standard would require of organisations in terms of the participation of workers – an area that was really only quite lightly covered in OHSAS 18001. But of course, documents evolve through the consensus building process within the committee and I think the later drafts and more particularly the published standard have largely assuaged those early concerns. The feedback that we’re hearing now is positive and we’re already seeing many organisations moving ahead with plans to migrate to the new standard.

That’s great news. In the ISO Strategy for 2016 to 2020, one of the aims is to increase the uptake of standards as business performance tools. How does that specifically relate to the publication of ISO 45001 for organisations?

The addition of an OH&S standard to the suite of ISO management system standards certainly does reinforce that OH&S is a key area of business performance. And, it’s certainly clear that although there’s considerable variation both geographically across the world and between sectors, we still have 2.78 million fatalities per year at work and 374 million instances of non-fatal work-related injury or ill health. That means there’s no room for complacency and every need for additional tools to help drive improvements.

Then we’ve got the issue of global supply chains which mean that consumers and purchasers are now much more exposed to those variations of OH&S performance that occur globally. And they may find themselves involved in a supply chain in which OH&S performance is an issue on which they need to bring influence to bear, both to meet stakeholder expectations and as part of their own brand protection.

The addition of an OH&S standard to the suite of ISO management system standards certainly does reinforce that OH&S is a key area of business performance.
Group Technical Assurance & Quality Director, LRQA Martin Cottam

The ISO strategy also mentions an aim under Communications to provide consistent messaging on strategic issues for ISO including the value, benefits and impact of international standards. This seems to signify a shift for ISO to move more towards business improvement and slightly away from compliance only. What impact do you think this will have on the certification industry?

Well, ISO management system standards have always had business improvement within their sights because all of these standards contain a requirement for continual improvement. There are still organisations around who take a compliance based approach to implementing standards, I think mistakenly perhaps perceiving this to be a low-cost option.

In my view, that approach tends to result in the organisation having the costs of the management system but rather few of the benefits. But being more optimistic, there are many organisations that completely embrace the idea that standards are a tool to support business improvement.

Annex SL introduced a section on the ‘Context of the organization’, which is now included in all the ISO management system standards, emphasising that the provisions within the management system really need to reflect the external and internal environment of the particular organisation.

That really paints a picture of the management system as a tool to help the organisation set and achieve objectives appropriate to its own particular and evolving circumstances within which it’s operating. I think that’s a good example of how the latest management system standards are more demanding both for organisations but also of certifiers, as they require Assurance that it is very far removed from a simple tick box exercise.

And finally, when you fast-forward to the world in 2023 what would you hope to see in relation to OH&S and the global economy?

From the point of view of my role as Chair of the ISO committee, I really hope that we are seeing firm evidence of ISO 45001 contributing to an improvement in global OH&S performance. In particular, I hope that there’ll be progress in helping small businesses apply the principles of effective OH&S management and that we have developed new ways to connect this part of the economy, small businesses, to the use of standards as tools to help drive improvement. And then beyond that, I guess there’s the challenge of how standards need to evolve to address new ways of working such as the development of the gig economy.