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OHSAS 18001: Is it an effective health & safety risk management tool?
By David Powley - DNV Certification

David Powley, of DNV certification, presents the case for the health & safety management system specification, OHSAS 18001.

In 1999 representatives of the leading Certification Bodies (CB’s), or Registrars as known in the USA, met to develop a specification for management systems for health and safety. In effect they ended up with a specification looking remarkably similar to that for environmental management systems, ISO 4001. As it happens this was not such a bad thing. Why?

OHSAS 18001, as it was ultimately called, borrowed from ISO 14001 all of the necessary ingredients that would satisfy the three qualitative principles of risk management – these being:

1. Identify and assess significant risks
2. Manage the significant risks
3. Monitor the effectiveness of management of significant risks.

These three principles have been embodied in most of the UK health & safety law published since the middle of the 1980’s. The specification meets principle 1 by virtue of requirements to use logical methods to assess risks and to capture and react to regulatory information. Principle 2 is met by requirements to set objectives and / or have operational control procedures in place, depending on what the legal drivers are and whatever the risk assessments produce from meeting principle 1. A variety of checking activities (e.g. auditing, monitoring etc) are stipulated within the specification that would meet Principle 3.

On top of the principles of risk management, compliance with OHSAS 18001 demands a relevant policy statement, a management-driven review, arrangements for ensuring employee competence & awareness, organisational structures & descriptions, communications processes and a variety of aspects that aid the auditability of the management system (e.g. documented procedures, records etc).

It would appear therefore that the specification has integrity. However, there is some reluctance in accepting the worth of OHSAS 18001, particularly amongst certain quarters within the health & safety profession. This is not so much due to the wording and spirit of OHSAS 18001 but more to do with anticipated inadequacies in the regime for granting certification to it. This is understandable if one accepts that there have been cases showing that it is possible to gain certification to ISO 9001 (for quality management) and ISO 14001 ( for environmental management) where it has been subsequently proved to be undeserved, although this has been in a small minority of cases. Nevertheless, any company subscribing to certification to OHSAS 18001 will want assurance that the whole certification regime has credibility.

This comes down to the credibility of the CB and how its auditors perform their audits. It is advisable that the CB chosen should possess an established track record in health & safety risk management as well as an international reputation that it protects zealously. On the latter point, nothing concentrates the mind more for a proud CB than the mere whiff of poor practice and incompetence. Auditors of a good CB will ensure that certification is not granted lightly by scrupulously ensuring that the management system they audit has the capability to deliver regulatory compliance, protect employees and others affected by the organisation and also that the system can deliver continual improvement.

Certification to OHSAS 18001 is growing in many industry sectors. Many companies choose to operate their systems alongside of those for quality and/or environment for convenience. Apart from employees and others gaining assurance, there are other parties with an interest in a company being certified to OHSAS 18001 – the customers. Most of the current certifications to OHSAS 18001 are driven by customers and in many cases customers see a supplier’s certification to OHSAS 18001 as a convenient indicator of safety credentials, particularly at tendering time. This has special relevance to customers who are compelled to allow suppliers’ employees to come on to their premises to perform their work (e.g. ‘contractor’ situations).

OHSAS 18001 has all of the ingredients of a health & safety risk management standard. However the success of a certification regime that is based on it will depend largely on the thoroughness and integrity of the audits performed by the Certification Bodies (CB’s). In this regard, it is the CB’s with the better auditors and valued international reputations in health & safety that are likely to be the safer options for selection.


David Powley is a well recognised and highly experienced integrated management systems Auditor and Trainer with DNV Certification. He is the author of numerous articles on management systems for quality, environment and health and safety. DNV Certification is one of the world’s leading certification bodies/registrars offering the latest in management systems certification services. With more than 49,000 certificates issued worldwide, our name evokes a strong commitment to safety, quality, and concern for the environment. DNV recently launched Risk Based Certification™, a fresh approach to auditing. For further information on Risk Based Certification or any other service DNV offer please visit www.dnv.co.uk/certification or call 020 7716 6543.






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