Principles for Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems

All business employers, from the chief executive officers through to first-level supervisors, are responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace.

This is undertaken by identifying, assessing, and controlling the hazards in the workplace, thus reducing, eliminating, or minimizing the potential for injury, ill health, or loss of life. Whether it is failure to protect your workers against slipping or falling, chemical and gas exposure, electrocution, transportation accidents, ergonomic injuries, communicable diseases (flu, colds), hearing loss, or workplace violence, these hazards can disrupt work and may pose a serious threat to workers, resulting in lost time or loss of life.

The United States Department of Labor outlines the 10 most frequently cited standards following inspections of worksites.[1] In 2012 the following were cited: fall protection, construction; hazard communication; scaffolding; respiratory protection; control of hazardous energy (lockout/ tagout); powered industrial trucks; electrical, wiring methods, components, and equipment; ladders, construction; machines-general requirements and machine guarding; electrical systems design, general requirements. Have your supervisor review these areas in your company to address them before OSHA shows up.

Health and Safety Executive Statistics[2] for 2011 to 2012 for Britain showed a rate of fatal injury of 0.6 for every 100,000 workers. The main industrial sectors for fatal injuries were construction, agriculture, and waste and recycling. The statistics show that thousands of workers die each year from past work-related diseases and about 4,500 cancer deaths each year were due to past exposure to asbestos. The Health and Safety Executive reported new estimates to show the total cost associated with workplace injuries and ill health in Great Britain to be some £13.8 billion in 2011 prices and 27 million working days were lost due to work-related illness and workplace injury.

In Canada, it was reported by Employment and Social Development Canada that one in every 68 employed workers in 2010 was injured and harmed on the job and received workers' compensation as a result.[3] The highest rate of injury was in construction, with a rate of injury at 24.5 cases per 1,000 employees, and then manufacturing at 24, fishing and transport, and storage and communications at 20.5.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on the 10 most dangerous jobs in the United States; it was interesting to note that the fishing industry is the most dangerous, due to malfunctioning gear, inclement weather, and transportation incidents. Its fatality rate is 116 per 100,000 workers, with 29 total.

Next are the logging workers, with risk factors tied to heavy machinery, bad weather, and high altitudes. More than half of the incidents are the result of being struck by an object. Their fatality rate is 91.9 per 100,000 workers, with 59 total.

Aircraft pilots and flight engineers' fatality rate is 70.6 per 100,000 workers, with 78 total, due to transportation accidents, including crashes. Farmers and ranchers working long hours and with heavy machinery and equipment have a fatality rate of 41.4 per 100,000 workers, with 300 total. Next are mining, roofers, refuse and recyclable material collectors, truck drivers, stuntmen, and police and sheriff patrol officers.

Removing hazards is one way of improving worker protection; however in many cases it is more practical to control or manage the risks that the hazards pose. The risk is the probability or possible severity that could cause harm. The company is responsible for recognizing the hazards and risks, continually improving its occupational health and safety performance, and complying with applicable legal requirements.

Globalization (increase in competition and economic pressure), as well as the rapid development of information and communications technology (ICT), the Internet, and the shift of manufacturing to service industries, has had a huge impact on work and consequently occupational health and safety, tied to psychosocial hazards. Also restructuring and downsizing have caused increased work and tighter deadlines, adding to worker stress and fatigue. Companies have compensated by having temporary employment contracts or outsourcing to manage demands for work.

The workforce will consist of younger individuals, as many of the baby boomers will be retiring, and the make-up of the labor force will change to young immigrants, who will require additional support to integrate into the workplace. The migrant worker may have barriers to communication and training in occupational health and safety and have different cultural perceptions and attitudes concerning work and occupational risks.

In many countries, companies will try to retain the older workers to assist in mentoring the new workers, which will contribute to their economic success. Senior management needs to assess where their labor force will come from, the changes it will bring to their health and safety programs, and how they will integrate new workers in the workplace.

Not only has there been significant development in logistics and transportation – the movement of employees from one country to another – but also new technologies that have brought about changes in work practices and processes, which have generated new hazards and risks.

There has also been an increase in automation and use of powered equipment, which has reduced the need for heavy physical work, which has been replaced by other risks tied to ergonomics and exposure to electromagnetic radiation. As these changes impact businesses, changes will be needed in workplace health and safety management systems.

There are high costs associated with occupational disease, not only impoverishing workers and families but also reducing productivity and work capacity and increasing health care expenditures for countries or individuals.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) (April 28, 2013), in their report “The Prevention of Occupational Diseases – World Day for safety and health at work 28 April 2013,” the following was outlined.

Work-related accidents and diseases result in an annual 4% loss in global gross domestic product (GDP), or about US$2.8 trillion, in direct and indirect costs of injuries and diseases.

The cost of work-related diseases in the EU has been estimated to be at least €145 billion per year. The French government estimates that compensation for ARD for the period 2001-20 will be between €27 and 37 billion, which is equivalent to €1.3 and €1.9 billion per year.

In the United States, insurance companies reportedly paid $21.6 billion for asbestos-exposure cases for the period 1990-2000, in addition to the $32 billion paid out by prosecuted enterprises.

In the Republic of Korea, the total economic cost of MSDs was $6.89 billion, representing 0.7% of the country's GDP in 2011.18 MSDs are estimated to cost New Zealand's health-care system over $4.71 billion per year and constitute about a quarter of the total annual health-care costs.[4]

The ILO also reported that 2.34 million workers die each year from work-related accidents and diseases. Types of diseases vary, from workplace dusts in China to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and respiratory diseases in Argentina, and low-back disorders, pneumoconiosis, and mental disorders in Japan. “The US Bureau of Labor statistics reported in 2011 skin diseases, hearing loss and respiratory conditions were the three most prevalent health impairments.”

Good data is limited; more than half of all countries still do not collect adequate statistics because workers in small and medium-sized enterprises, rural areas, and the informal economy represent the majority of the workforce and are outside of the systems that document, report, and compensate occupational diseases.

As stated previously, the aging population and the increasing number of temporary, casual, or part-time workers increase people's willingness to accept unsafe working conditions and impede adequate health surveillance as workers go from one job to another with various levels of exposure, making monitoring of the work environment difficult.

There is a need for a mechanism to collect proper data and to ensure management and control of hazards and risks are in place. I propose for all businesses the international standard for occupational health and safety: OHSAS 18001.

Many organizations have implemented OHSAS 18001 and have either gone for registration or self-declared their management system. It assures customers and stakeholders – government, shareholders, employees, contractors, and the community at large – that the company has an internationally recognized management system in place. I have worked with numerous organizations, establishing policies and programs that provide specific direction and delegate authority to those responsible for providing a safe and healthy workplace. An established framework that can manage and control ongoing risks and changes to processes also limits financial losses resulting from injuries.

Keeping in compliance with applicable health and safety legislation is key; having OHSAS 18001 in place ensures that you have the systems to identify legal requirements and their applicable tasks and will manage important documents and data.

Training is another key area outlined in the standard. It is important to cross-train your people, so that you have a backup plan in place if someone becomes injured and is unable to work. Monitor training and complete inspections on time and ensure that corrective actions are dealt with effectively.

The standard requires that you have audits in place to verify your management system's effectiveness and efficiencies and that any nonconformances are managed with root-cause analysis and corrective action.

The inspection programs track that you provide and maintain protective equipment, devices, and clothing, and that they are used according to standing operating procedures. Inspections also assist to ensure the safety in operating machinery and workplace operations. New technology has come into the workplace for checklist inspections to be completed on hand-held devices which store information into systems for immediate action and future tracking.

Many laws today give employees three basic rights: the right to know about hazards, the right to participate in health and safety initiatives, and the right to refuse unsafe work. There are many penalties tied to noncompliance with these legislative standards, and in some areas health and safety officers have the power to inspect workplaces, investigate workplace complaints and accidents, and issue orders for noncompliance, which can be very costly for an organization.

Having open communication is important, whether you are required by law to have a health and safety committee or you have a smaller company and conduct regular meetings with your people. Inform them of hazards within their areas. Encourage them to suggest improvements for the workplace either through their supervisors or directly to management, as they understand their work area the best and can recognize areas of concern and how they can be changed. Investigate these opportunities and any reported unsafe conditions. These are usually outlined in minutes; however, it is better for tracking if these are documented in your corrective action system, ensuring that action is taken without delay.

OHSAS 18001 is not an ISO standard, but a specification developed by the British Standards Institute (BSI) to guide organizations in managing effective occupational health and safety (OH&S).


• Leadership

• Continual improvement

• System approach to management

• Compliance with legal and other requirements

• Performance evaluation

• Management of resources

• Operational control

• Emergency preparedness and response

  • [1] Occupational Safety & Health Administration. Available at
  • [2] Health and Safety Executive. Available at
  • [3] Employment and Social Development Canada. Available at www4 This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it ?iid=20.
  • [4] The document is available at
  • [5] Neither British Standards Institute nor ISO has outlined principles for occupational health and safety.
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