Health and Safety Management Systems


Health and Safety Management Systems

The main components of an Occupational Safety and Health Management System (OHSM) include:

  • Policy – a ‘mission statement’ for health and safety that provides a mechanism for management control and accountability.
  • Arrangements for implementation, monitoring (including audit) and continual improvement. A systematic approach to these arrangements removes the potential for isolated processes developed by a few individuals and instead creates an environment in which the whole workforce can be involved.

Several types of management system are based upon the framework of plan, do check, act, (PDCA) notably quality management (ISO 9000 series) and environmental management (ISO 14000 series). Significant benefits can be obtained within an organisation by integrating the management approach to these with health and safety including the adoption of a holistic approach.

Effective Health and Safety Management Systems include the following elements:


– a statement of commitment and vision by the organisation, which creates a framework for accountability that is adopted and led by senior management.


– a plan for hazard identification, risk assessment and risk control, emergency preparedness and response, with identification of legal and other standards which apply. The organisation should set long term Health and Safety objectives and plan the management targets and actions to achieve them.


– definition of the organisational structure; allocation of Health and Safety responsibilities to employees, linked to operational control arrangements; and means to ensure competence, training and consultation.

Worker representatives

– a crucial resource that can make a valuable contribution to the overall organisational response to risk.


– from basic information and work procedures to the details of the system itself, in two-way communication.


– whatever the flow of information, effective mechanisms are required to tap into the fund of knowledge and expertise within the workforce, clients/suppliers and other stakeholders (e.g. regulators, trade unions, neighbours), and to facilitate the collective shaping of the risk management programme.

Implementing and operating

– the implementation of management processes and plans, and engagement in the activities from risk assessment to audit, which represent the practice of the system.

Measuring performance

– from reactive data on the rates of work-related injuries, ill health, diseases, near misses and other incidents, to active data on routine inspections, health and safety committees, training and risk assessments. Formal audits should evaluate the overall performance of the system.

Corrective and preventive actions

– a fundamental Health and Safety component is a systematic approach to identifying opportunities to prevent accidents and ill health, including those arising from the investigation of work-related injuries, ill health and incidents. A variety of techniques is employed to identify non compliances and correct them, and to seek ways in which adverse outcomes may be prevented.

Management review

– an evaluation of the appropriateness of the overall design and resourcing of the system, as well as its objectives in the light of performance achieved.

Continual improvement

– at the heart of the system is a fundamental commitment to manage health and safety risks proactively, so that accidents and ill health are reduced and/or the system achieves the desired aims by employing fewer resources more efficiently.

Typical systems – an overview

Many Health and Safety Management Systems have been published over the past 20 years. Some reflect the interests of the sponsoring bodies and others, such as the International Safety Rating System, were developed so that commercial organisations could offer third-party certification. Three generic Health and Safety Management Systems reflect this history and illustrate the different emphases of current systems.

HSG65 – Successful Health and Safety Management

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) published Successful health and safety management (HSG65) in 1991. This characterised five key elements: policy; organising; planning and implementation; measuring performance; audit and review. It is based on the traditional PDCA principle, where the organisation’s plans reflect the policy document and the implementation phase is dominated by risk assessment and application of controls. Checking includes a mixture of performance monitoring, auditing and corrective action.

The guidance intentionally reflected contemporary management processes and encouraged readers to harness them for health and safety programmes. However, at that time, the HSE was under pressure to restrict its activities to supporting and enforcing legal compliance. This led to a system whereby legal compliance became embedded in organisational policy and, once achieved, the aim was largely maintenance of the status quo. This compared unfavourably with systems that unambiguously focus on continual improvement, a fundamental weakness that was addressed in the second and current edition of HSG65. This edition added information on managing change and expanded on consultation, communication and continual improvement.

HSG65 retains the special status of a management system developed by a regulatory agency, and the ‘head start’ it had from its earlier publication in 1991 makes it familiar to many UK-based managers and safety practitioners.

BS OHSAS 18001: 2007 Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems – Requirements

OHSAS 18001 grew from a desire to create a system capable of assessment and certification, as a follow-on from British Standard 88007, which gave a choice of health and safety management using an HS(G)65 or ISO 140018 approach.

Whereas HS(G)65 addressed implementation of the policy, and implied that doing so would be quite straightforward once it had been adopted, the newer system more fully reflected the problems of changing an organisation. Building on established quality and environmental management systems, OHSAS 18001 recognised the importance of planning and managing changes likely to be needed as a Health and Safety Management System is introduced.

ILO OSHMS guidelines

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is a tripartite United Nations agency that influences the development of labour laws across the globe. Its publications and guidance are authoritative, and the launch of Guidelines on occupational safety and health management systems in 2001 (following detailed review of over 20 management systems worldwide) established an international model. It reflects the globalisation of organisations and the increase in outsourcing and partnering – an indication of how systems need to evolve continually to reflect new ways in which organisations manage activities. However, unlike OHSAS 18001 there are no current plans to certify organisations for conformance with the ILO model (although the ILO is drafting further guidance which might be used as a basis for a future certification standard).

Looking ahead

Companies with industry-specific management systems will find compliance requirements likely to increase over the coming years. For those with the opportunity to choose, a number of generic systems offer different approaches. Some, such as HSG65, focus on legal compliance, but have added more on continual improvement and worker involvement. Others, such as OHSAS 18001, lend themselves to third-party certification (a legal requirement in some countries, though not in the UK) and have greater emphasis on continual improvement and not as much on worker involvement.

The trend in global enforcement towards goal setting may result in a legal duty for the adoption and implementation of a Health and Safety Management System in more countries, and an implied duty in many others.

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