Is this the most important Clause in H&S Standard ISO 45001?

The international standard for occupational health and safety ISO 45001, was a long time coming, with organisations using British Standard OHSAS 18001 as a governance framework for many years.

But in 2018 the Project Committee ISO/PC 283 managed to co-ordinate the involvement of over 70 countries to finally bring the standard to publication.   When you consider the varying safety cultures across the globe, to achieve any form on consensus is difficult, and the standard calls out to territorial legislation as a minimum.

There are many new features of ISO 45001 which compared to the British Standard, but perhaps the most significant is clause 7.3(f).  


What’s New in ISO 45001?

ISO 45001 follows the Annex SL structure making it much easier to integrate management systems.

Under that structure, clause 7.3 address Awareness, ensuring that all interested parties are informed about relevant management system requirements and how they can contribute to its effectiveness.

However, drilling down further into this clause with ISO 45001, subclause F brings a significant and internationally relevant requirement.

‘arrangements providing workers the ability to remove themselves from work situations that they believe present an imminent and serious danger to their life or health, as well as protecting them from undue consequences for doing so.’

ISO 45001 Protecting & Empowering Workers

In the UK we have had the Health & Safety at Work Act since 1974, and this placed duties on both the employer and the employee to each contribute to a safe working environment, reducing risks.

Even with this legal requirement, some workers who face risky situations may not feel able to refuse such activities for fear of the consequences to their job, and it’s certainly easy to imagine in countries with less health & safety legislation, that vulnerable workers might be actively pressured in to dangerous working practices to keep their jobs.

This clause explicitly calls out this behaviour by requiring organisations to provide the ‘ability’ for workers to remove themselves from ‘imminent’ and ‘serious’ danger without ‘undue’ consequences.

How this might be evidenced during an ISO 45001 Audit is something that only time will tell.

Employers might also worry that this clause provides a way for employees to avoid particular tasks that need to be undertaken as part of their job.  

Employers have a duty to provide a safe working environment by identifying and managing health and safety risks.  All activities where risks are present should already have been risk assessed, and mitigating controls applied in accordance with the hierarchy of controls.  By following this process, and including workers in it, the likelihood of ‘imminent’ and ‘serious’ danger should be greatly reduced.  


Read our blog Why Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) Should be your Last Resort: Although it’s still important!

More likely, this clause provides workers with the ability to respond to an emergency or changing situation where risks might have increased, in order to protect themselves and others.  There would still be an expectation that workers and managers engage with each other (Consultation & Participation, see Clause 5 of the standard) in order to manage the risks.

Modern Slavery & Supply Chain Resilience

This also highlights the complexities of managing occupational health and safety risks through the supply chain, where safety culture could vary greatly.  

Having identified ‘interested parties’ as required in Clause 4 of all Annex SL Standards, and implementing clauses for Outsourcing and Procurement in Clause 8, the organisation should already have a good understanding of where safety risks exist in the supply chain.

Recent legislation including the Modern Slavery Act signal a move towards more socially responsibility and resilience in how organisations operate, which must be done by engaging with the supply chain, conducting supplier audits and so on.

Global Move Towards Social Responsibility

The introductory paragraphs of the ISO 45001 standard makes clear that physical, psychological and mental health should all be considered when implementing this standard, and with Stress and Psychosocial issues being one of the main causes of absenteeism, there’s a strong case for this.

ISO 9001, the standard for a Quality Management System, added guidance addressing employee wellbeing at its recent revision, which shows this is an issue across management disciplines.

Read more about How ISO 9001 Addresses Employee Wellbeing.


Implementing ISO 45001

ISO 45001 is designed to be applicable to all types and sizes of companies, which can sometimes make it difficult to interpret and apply to your organisation.

Assent Risk Management has experience working with clients from many different industries, implementing ISO Standards and managing a variety of risks.  We can help you apply ISO Standards to your organisation effectively and add real value without creating a lot of additional overhead.

Contact us to discuss the scope of your ISO 45001 Project.

Robert Clements
Robert Clements
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