Less is more: Proportionate implementation of ISO 45001

To coin a phrase – less is more. While this was originally the motto adopted by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in support of minimalist design, in today’s world it’s more commonly used to refer to something less complex and therefore easier to appreciate.

Indeed, while the inner workings of a modern-day car, virtual home assistant or mobile phone have become increasingly complex, the user interface is tipping the scales – offering a seamlessly cohesive and simplistic user experience.

We’re certainly not suggesting that meeting a new Occupational Health and Safety Management Standard is a simple endeavour, but it certainly doesn’t need to be a complex one. Once organisations have navigated their way through the inner workings, they’ll soon find the execution to be a straight forward process. For some organisations though, the prospect might seem daunting.

Earlier this year RoSPA played a vital part in the phenomenal effort that resulted in the launch of ISO 45001. While the wording has been carefully crafted, there’s always the possibility that ‘selling the message’ poses a challenge – so we’re taking a moment to rewind and break-down the first principles of the new standard into a simple and less complex format – allowing for proportionate implementation:


Implementing is a ‘doing’ word, so organisations need to put the content of ISO 45001 into effect and make it work. The beauty of the standard is while it’s global in nature, it also meets local needs and can be interpreted accordingly and proportionately to proactively improve employee safety.


Understanding the context of your organisation underpins the process, articulating the circumstances that form the setting for who you are and what you do, and communicated in a way that can be fully understood.

Bringing together what’s happening internally with what you ‘look like’ to your stakeholder network can also be advantageous – a simple mapping exercise to clarify this perhaps? But also bear in mind that organisations are not meant to be profitable at the expense of worker health and safety.

It’s also important to align the understanding of the benefits of ISO 45001 across your organisation with an emphasis on leadership at all levels. There’s been a significant dialogue around senior management leadership and perhaps much lip service, however the organisational change required by ISO 45001 will not be sustained by this type of approach.

Also bear in mind that while auditors will take a proportionate approach, they will base their decisions on the evidence presented/complied through interview. President & Founder of Global Solutions, Inc. Kathy Seabrook captured this perfectly when she noted “If it’s not documented anywhere, it’s a rumour.” If you’re developing auditors in-house, make sure to provide insights into ‘how to’ interview non OHS specialists.


Implementing ISO 45001 will necessitate change within an organisation and with this, approaches to tackling issues will need to change and those changes will need to be sustainable – where sustainable means are able to be upheld or defended. There’s no use trying to implement change that won’t provide long term benefits and will easily fall to the wayside.


How do you communicate? Do you ensure gender, language, culture, literacy etc. are not barriers to understanding? How do you accommodate risk perception across the life course of an employee? Perhaps more focus on planning for change, appropriate communications evaluated to evidence worker engagement?

We’re not suggesting that for every risk assessment there should be an opportunities assessment, however the latter is hugely beneficial in adding OHS to the wider business development conversation. One topic in particular that’s climbing up the agenda is workforce planning, within the context of an ageing global population and the importance of sustainable working lives.


Take time to reflect on ‘rumour vs reality’ as you progress towards ISO 45001. More often than not businesses feel the need to make sweeping changes which aren’t necessarily relevant to their needs – it’s therefore important to consider the proportionality of the changes implemented rather than taking a broad view. Martin Cottam, Lloyd’s Register and Chair of BSI S1 committee summarised this perfectly when saying: “ISO 45001 is to assist organisations to develop themselves as opposed to meeting the demands of external auditors.”

For more information please contact Karen McDonnell, Head of RoSPA Scotland & Occupational Health and Safety Policy Adviser on 0131 449 9378 or kmcdonnell@rospa.com


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