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Understanding ISO 45001 and How WHS Procedures Will Change

Understanding ISO 45001 and How WHS Procedures Will Change

You're probably aware that WHS procedures are undergoing a massive shift. ISO 45001 is the new international occupational health and safety standard, and the changes are extensive. Like David Bowie stuttering his way through his '72 classic 'Ch-ch-ch-changes", getting through this ISO revolution might not happen smoothly - but we can help you make it happen. This month we'll lay out the landscape for you, so you understand what's happening. Next month we'll be more practical and will unveil some solutions. We will see the affects of ISO45001 certification Australia wide.

Make no mistake: ISO 45001 will change your WHS procedures, operational processes and the tendering landscape. Even if you don't transition to it, the marketplace is changing, So you'd be wise to understand the changes - or, as Bowie would say, "Turn and face the strange."

In this article, we'll look at:

  • What is ISO 45001?
  • What will happen in Australia?
  • Why is AS 4801 still 'on the books'?
  • Will my WHS procedures and safety management system change? 
  • Why aren't we sharing products yet?
  • What now?

What is ISO 45001?

There's a certain ugliness to all this - yet this will ultimately be an improvement. Here are the headlines:

  • ISO 45001 is the latest in safety management systems for occupational health and safety (OHS) released by the International Organisation for Standardisation (hence the ISO prefix).
  • It was released in March 2018 and replaced the OHSAS 18001:1999 occupational health and safety standard.

What Will Happen in Australia?

Sadly, there are things we know, and there are things we don't. Here's what we know:

  • Standards Australia has adopted ISO 45001 within Australia using the label AS/NZS ISO 45001:2018. 
  • There are no exceptions. Even W.A. and Victoria are on board for this one.
  • If you were AS/NZS 4801:2001 certified and want to remain certified, you'll need to transition by 13 July 2023.
  • If you weren't certified, you can continue to use AS/NZS 4801:2018 (for now).

Note: From here on, for the sake of easy reading, we'll use "ISO 45001" instead of AS/NZS ISO 45001:2018 and "AS 4801" instead of AS/NZS 4801:2001.

There are many things we don't know - and even the people who should be able to tell us don't seem sure. 

  • How long will the situation of this dual or parallel system continue? 
  • Can current AS 4801 enterprises drop out of certification rather than transition? 
  • Will there be a hybrid type of dual-system to comply with both IOS 45001 and AS 4802? 

These and other questions are still unanswered.

We do expect the existing market drivers to remain in place. The big two questions of "Are you certified?' and "Do you have a system compliant with…?" will still be asked. What will change is the standard you are expected to comply with. Therefore, certification, to ISO 45001 or any standard, will continue to be a decision driven by market competitiveness, the nature of projects undertaken and tender document stipulations.

Why is AS 4801 Still' On the Books'?

AS4801 is continuing as an available and recognised standard. This is because even though the standard has been superseded, it's been given the technical classification of 'Available Superseded' - or in other words, you can keep using the old one (it's available), but we've got a better one now (it's superseded). 

Why do this? It's so that the many laws and codes that reference AS 4801 can still be enforced. Once the legislation catches up with the new ISO we expect this will change.

Will my WHS Procedures and Management System Change? 

ISO 45001 is more complex and has broader implications than anything seen before. Since it incorporated and superseded numerous ISO standards, it deals in more than WHS procedures and management systems. 

This is a significant structural and procedural change for those who engage with it. International Standards previously replaced Australian Standards for Quality Management (ISO 9001:2015) and Environmental Management (ISO 14001:2015). Picture a Production Manager, Marketing Manager, Safety Officer, a Green Peace activist, and three or four government bureaucrats sitting around the table - for years! The system they created is ISO 45001. The benefit of all this is that businesses can adopt an Integrated Management System (IMS) using the same structure for all.

We're not saying it's a bad standard - it’s actually quite good! We're just saying this will be challenging for you if you operate a small to medium sized business. It will be taxing on your resources if you have to adopt the entire system, and it will be demanding in a different way if you have to wade through, decide and then selectively apply what is relevant for you. 

ISO 45001 may ask you to change your:

  • Leadership systems, 
  • Training methods, 
  • Context analysis, 
  • Objective and targets, 
  • Managing change,
  • Personnel and other programs, and 
  • Corrective action processes. 

The changes centre around three guiding themes that we see present. The International Standards Organisation believes:

  1. WHS procedures and management should be process-based, not activity based.
  2. Safety approaches should be viewed holistically rather than independently. In other words, safety is most assured when tasks and processes are viewed as parts of the whole, not as stand-alone and separate activities.  
  3. Responsibilities and liabilities should be distributed more diversely.

Again, we're not saying this isn't good - but it is different!

Why are we Not Sharing Products Yet? 

There's a straightforward and appropriate answer to this question: we're almost ready, but not yet. This delay is not without good reason, so to be more precise, we're not willing to release products yet because: 

  1. This will be a significant transition, so our resources must have exceptional clarity. 
  2. There are still questions the authorities won't answer and significant unknowns.
  3. We've been working on this since early  in 2021. It is BIG and complicated.
  4. Our Quality Control checks and sub-editing are not yet complete. 
  5. Few customers have asked about making the move - yet!
  6. There has been no compelling need to hurry. 
  7. We have very high standards, so development and testing require time.

We believe in what we've done and we believe you'll like it too. There is a right time to make the ch-ch-ch-change. :)

What Should You Do?

These have been difficult days. The usual challenges of personnel, supply chain, cash flow and weather have continued, plus in recent years: 

  • You've delivered on projects you quoted during better times.
  • You've endured elections that stalled the marketplace.
  • COVID brought intolerable complications, undermined trust and continues to create uncertainty. 
  • The world is an unstable-looking space.

We get it! We also know that it would be tempting to delay dealing with ISO changes; to put them on the back-burner as a problem best left till later.

That would be easy but probably not wise. So while it's true that we're not in the 'urgent' space yet, July 2023 is coming up quickly for those certified to AS 4801. For everyone else, it could be any time after that!

There's no product promo in this article; it's one of our important 'Just the Message' pieces. Safety Management will minimise safety risks.

We will ask you to do one thing, though: 

If ISO 45001 seems relevant to you, please email us at and put ISO 45001 in the header or message. That'll be a simple way of saying you want to be notified of developments - and we'll keep you informed.

Next month we'll take a more practical look at transitioning and the solutions available.

To quote Bowie again, the "Ch-ch-ch-changes" are coming, and we need to "turn and face the strange". If you have questions on this or any related topic, please call. Dial 1800 304 336 so we can walk this journey with you (and we promise not to sing the song).

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