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Oct 18, 2017

What are the biggest challenges when implementing OHSAS 18001?

If you are embarking on implementing an OH&SMS (Occupational Health & Safety Management System) based on the requirements of OHSAS 18001, there are a number of challenges facing you, especially if this is the first time that you work with one of the ISO family of standards. If you have previously implemented a Management System based on an ISO standard, there will be a number of elements that you are familiar with, but the OHSAS 18001 standard does contain some elements that are not present in the other standards.

We will discuss the 5 obstacles that companies struggle with most when implementing an OH&SMS for the first time, and show you how to easily overcome these barriers. There are in fact specific sections of the OHSAS 18001 standard that will assist you greatly while you’re implementing your system.

  1. Legislation

One of the critical difference between the requirements of the OHSAS 18001 standard and other ISO standards is that your OH&SMS must meet the legal requirements governing health and safety that are applicable to your country or region. It might be a good idea not to try and meet all legislation requirements yourself, as this is a specialized field that could in fact become quite tricky to implement. Using a specialist in this field could save your hours of work and make your implementation much easier. Whether you use someone internally or hire an external expert will depend on your company’s exact circumstances and requirements.

Whichever way you decide to go at the end of the day, take the time to make sure that the person you use has the knowledge, experience and ability to deliver the legislation compliance details that your company needs.

  1. Organizational culture

If you have not implemented and used a formal OH&SMS in your company before, it’s easy to underestimate the importance of health and safety in the workplace. It is likely that employees don’t see health and safety as a priority, and any risks or dangers that may be present aren’t recognized. As a result, you may have had incidents or accidents, but are not aware of these as they have not been reported or acted upon in a formal manner.

This situation needs to change in order to prevent future accidents. In section 4.4.2 of the standard, competence, training, and awareness of staff is dealt with, and this will help you tremendously in ensuring that everyone is on the same page. All employees and stakeholders should be trained and made aware of the company’s objectives and targets to enable good health and safety performance. Your employees should also be consulted on health and safety issues, and informed of any changes. If you listen to your team and value their opinions, it will go a long way in getting them to believe in the OH&SMS, as they will feel that they helped create it.

  1. Teamwork

It is virtually impossible for a single person to establish an OH&SMS by themselves, except maybe in a tiny micro business. It is therefore crucial that you have the assistance of other like-minded employees and team members. This can be achieved by creating formal roles and responsibilities, or looking for help in an informal manner. Without the expertise and support of team members that know more about the company and its products than you do, the implementation of the OH&SMS will be very difficult.

Participation and consultation is described in section 4.4.3.2 of OHSAS 18001. When you consult and communicate with team members, it will build the knowledge of all parties concerned. Equally important, it will help you build relationships and trust between yourself and team members, as well as amongst other team members. This will make your implementation a lot easier than what it would be otherwise.

  1. The role of executive management

Although executive management typically does not get involved in the day to day operations of the OH&SMS, their involvement is critical to the success of your implementation. They need to be committed to the project, and emphasize the importance of health and safety by leading through example. When any communication relating to health and safety is supported by management, it is also more likely to be accepted and acted on. Without this vital ingredient, your job of implementing an OH&SMS will be much more difficult.

The standard gives some strong guidance on the role of top management. Section 4.4.1 deals with roles, resources, authority, responsibilities and accountability. This section leaves no doubt that the onus is on top management to demonstrate its commitment to the OH&SMS. It also requires that members of management must be known to employees, and defines how they need to play a part in defining authority and responsibilities within the OH&SMS.

While you are implementing the system, you could use this clause of the standard to make sure that the top management communicate effectively, lead by example, and show employees that an effective OH&SMS is important.

  1. Organizational structure.

How your organization is structured, what it does and how it is done will impact on how you implement the system. If the company has different sites performing multiple functions, operates from different global locations, or has different types of operations for example a manufacturing plant, a call center and an office, each of these will have different health and safety requirements. This type of organizational complexity will add to the difficulty of the challenges facing you and you might have to determine whether you will implement a “one-size-fits-all” approach, or if separate provisions need to be made for different operations.

Section 4.4.6 of the standard describes operation control. You can use this section to evaluate your company’s processes, activities, and controls, even across numerous sites. You will then be able to shape the controls in your OH&SMS to meet the specific needs of each site, even if they deliver very different outputs in terms of products and services.

Using the challenges to your advantage

We have described some challenges that are fairly common when companies implement an OH&SMS for the first time. It is however possible for you to not only meet these challenges effectively, but also to use the actions described to your advantage.

While the issues that have been discussed are normal when establishing any OH&SMS, the risk of not addressing them effectively presents some opportunities. If you can help your company address these challenges proactively with proper planning and execution, your OH&SMS will benefit by dealing with the difficulties before they arise. As with many factors pertaining to OH&S, prevention is better than cure, and if you deal with the most common challenges during the implementation, the OH&S’ performance and your employee well-being will benefit from this for many years.

ISO 9001 quality management systems (QMS) are implemented using MyEasyISO software in Mumbai (India), while ISO 14001 & OHSAS 18001 Health Safety Management Systems (HSE) are implemented with MyEasyISO in Hamburg (Germany).


Sree Vidhya

CRM Specialist At Effivity
Sree has over 7+ years of experience. She excels in building strong client relationships and ensuring customer satisfaction. Sree's expertise and dedication help drive Effivity's commitment to exceptional customer service.

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