ISO: Global occupational health and safety standard on horizon

Last week the International Organization for Standardization ( ISO) approved the establishment of Project Committee (PC 283). The committee ultimately will produce a specification standard that will be used by third parties to certify an organization’s Occupational Health & Safety Management System. It is expected that the final standard will be complete sometime in 2016.

What does it mean?

The proposed standard will replace the OHSAS 18001, and also will likely replace the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Z10 standard, which defines minimum requirements for OHSMS.

Even though the ISO OHSMS will be developed as a voluntary consensus standard, it will find its way into contracts. And we will see it emerge in other places, possibly even in the same arena as governmental regulations. Upon its adoption, the 18001 will no longer exist; the same will happen with ANSI Z10.

Why now?

In order to remain competitive, organizations that once operated domestically are entering the global marketplace. Those who once developed and produced products and services exclusively for domestic end users now have to contemplate broader use and consumption by an international market. The increased global demand for products is at an all-time high, along with the expectation of consumers to acquire these products at a competitive price.

Many third world and developing countries have one of the most valued exports in this new age of globalization – affordable labor – which is why corporations move production overseas. In-country production produces billions of dollars in revenue. At the same time governments in many host countries are not prepared to establish and enforce OHS standards.

Consumers are paying a lot more attention to working conditions where the products they buy are made and whether basic human rights are respected at these facilities. Globalized organizations are under increasing pressure to exercise corporate responsibility and responsible sourcing. Working conditions, pay, benefits and premises safety are all highly visible issues. An organization’s failure to adequately identify working conditions at third party manufacturing facilities carries serious and costly consequences in the universal court of public opinion.

Corporations are asking questions:

  • What happens when a production facility is located in a country where occupational health and safety is not enforced by governmental regulation?
  • What if regulations exist but do not adequately address our health and safety concerns?
  • What happens when a global organization attempts to impose regulations that exist in its country of origin on an outsourced manufacturing facility?
  • What are the chances that all nations will ever reach consensus on regulations and standards to protect the health and safety of employees?
  • How do we deal with multiple regulations across the globe?

These types of questions have many organizations at an impasse.

If you honestly believe all nations could ever agree on a global OHS policy, you are living in fantasy land. Industry is going to be the main driver.

But a more robust OHS standard under ISO’s flagship would provide stronger guidance. With this voluntary program incorporated into RFPs and contractual language, contractors would have to comply to get the business. It is as simple as that!

Before we put the cart in front of the horse, there is a lot of work ISO has to do. In the meantime, let’s applaud the efforts of ISO to bring this important issue to the forefront and take aggressive steps to address a world-wide problem.

Overall the ISO project committee announcement is a positive sign as a growing number of organizations take steps to ensure employee health and safety protections around the globe.

Find a good internet source and set your RSS feed; it is about to get really interesting!

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