The international controversy about safety management standards

During May 2016, Australia voted against approving the Draft International Safety Management Standard ISO45001. The “no” vote was not the majority, but it was a strong enough vote to send the draft back to the International Committee for further debate and, hopefully, further amendment.

Why is this important?

Many Australian organisations currently use the Australian / New Zealand Standard 4801:2001 for the purpose of developing and auditing their safety management systems. AS/NZ4801 is well overdue for review and it was scheduled to be updated by Standards Australia a few years ago.

Enter the International Standards Organisation (ISO), which added to the suite of standards covering quality and environmental management by commencing work on an international standard for safety management systems.

So, the Australian committee established to look at AS/NZ4801 (including representation from Ai Group) turned its efforts to participating in the international debate. The aim was, and still is, to influence an international standard so that it can meet the needs of Australian organisations, and be adopted within Australia, consistently with overseas organisations.

Anyone who has watched the progress of the national harmonisation of work health and safety laws in Australia may just begin to imagine how difficult it is to get agreement to a standard across all participating nations.

In its current form, the draft standard has some major issues that need to be addressed. These include how “OH&S risk” is defined; how consultation is addressed; and the importance of placing greater emphasis on applying known controls rather than unnecessary risk assessment. Standards Australia has issued a statement on the vote and the further work that is needed.

International meetings scheduled for June and September 2016 will consider the input of the participating nations, and a further draft standard will be released sometime after that.

In an increasingly globalised world, Australia wants to support the adoption of an international standard for safety management systems. Our ability to do this will depend on the response to our proposed changes and the importance of any outstanding issues.

What do you think? If we can’t get the standard modified to suit Australia, should Standards Australia recommence work to update AS/NZ4801:2001, or is international consistency too important for that to be the response? Have your say and start a conversation by leaving a comment below.

If you need advice or assistance with regard to your own Safety Management System, contact Trinette Jaeschke, Ai Group’s National Manager – Safety & Workers’ Compensation Services.

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As Ai Group's Manager of National Safety & Workers’ Compensation Policy and Membership Services, Tracey provides consulting and training services across the full range of OHS and workers' compensation issues. She also represents Ai Group in policy forums such as Safe Work Australia’s strategic issues group overseeing the development of the National Model Work Health and Safety Laws and supporting Codes of Practice; and the Standards Australia Committee responsible for Australia’s input into the development of the International Standard for OHS Management Systems (ISO 45001).

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  1. Ian Armstrong

    If the standard cant be modified to suit Australia; then the next best option would be to update 4801 to meet the requirements of the international standard and to include the areas that Australia feel is important to be included.

    1. Tracey Browne (Post author)

      Thanks for your input Ian. This may be the approach we need to take.

  2. otto Kainulainen

    As far as consulting goes we must defer to our legislation regardless of any isos or as nzs procedures. The same goes for risk. The courts don’t even have to consider isos or as nz’s when making a determination. I hope they produce a worthwhile iso but it’s not important. It will end up very vanilla if one is adopted regardless and therefore of little use in getting best practices adopted. Another meaningless certification money spinner that wont lead to improving safety in Australia. Regards Otto.K.

    1. Tracey Browne (Post author)

      Thanks Otto. You make a good point that the standards should be about adopting best practice, not just achieving certification; and ultimately it is the law that determines what needs to be done.


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