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Occupational Health Safety Management Systems: The Key to Accident Prevention | The HR Space

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Labour, Employment and Human Rights Bulletin

In Canada, two workers die each day from a work related accident or disease, and hundreds more experience a work related injury.[1] Despite an increased focus from regulators, unions and industry associations on improving occupational health and safety systems across Canada, the accident statistics are not improving significantly. Is the implementation of an effective occupational health and safety management system ("OHSMS") the key to accident prevention?

An OHSMS provides a systematic way to identify hazards and control risks while maintaining assurance that these risk controls are effective. An OHSMS, if implemented effectively, will reduce workplace accidents. It will also help organizations avoid costly prosecutions, reduce workers compensation insurance costs, and create a positive safety culture in the organization.

Definition of an OHSMS

OHSMS can be defined as a formal, organized and documented structure or system to manage health and safety risks in an organization. As with any management system, an occupational health and safety management system provides for goal setting, planning, and measuring performance.

Confusing a System with a Program

A system is not the same as a program. Health and safety programs will comprise or be part of your system, along with other important components. 

Components of an OHSMS

These following elements are important components of an effective OHSMS:

  • Identification and analysis of health and safety hazards;
  • Control measures to eliminate or reduce the risks from hazards;
  • Clearly demonstrated and management commitment, and written company policy;
  • Worker competency and training;
  • Inspection program;
  • Emergency response planning;
  • Incident reporting and investigation;
  • Auditing

All of these components are necessary for a safety system to function as intended - that is, to reduce accidents. The auditing component, however, is key to any effective OHSMS.

All Systems Go! Why Audit?

If an organization has satisfied itself that hazards arising from work activities are identified, risks assessed and controlled, and measures to achieve its health and safety objectives and targets implemented, what's left to do? If left alone, at this point, the system will fail. Organizations need to measure, monitor and evaluate health and safety performance to determine the effectiveness of the system. It is a good idea for management systems to include detailed provisions and guidance for both internal and external audits, including competency requirements for the auditor.

Regulatory Perspective

A OHSMS is intended to act as a framework to allow an organisation, as a minimum, to meet or exceed its legal obligations under occupational safety and health law. The implementation of an OHSMS is, not of itself a legal requirement.

Many organizations choose to seek certification or registration of its OHSMS by an external organisation, to a nationally or internationally recognized standard. The newest standard - ISO 45001, Occupational health and safety management systems - is still under development by the International Standards Organization. ISO 45001 is intended for use by any organization, regardless of its size or the nature of its work, and can be integrated into other health and safety programs. Its expected publication is February 2018. This voluntary standard, as with all health and safety management system standards follows the Plan-Do-Check-Act method for the control and continual improvement of health and safety processes within the organization.

Another occupational health and safety ("OHS") accreditation program that is growing in popularity is the Certificate of Recognition program, commonly known as COR™.  The COR program began in Alberta more than 20 years ago. The bulk of COR firms are in construction and other major business sectors in Alberta and British Columbia. COR is now frequently used as a pre-qualifying  or contractual condition by public and private project owners across Canada.

The objectives of COR are to provide industry employers with an effective OHSMS to reduce incidents, accidents, injuries costs. Similar to other recognized management systems, the COR program is voluntary.  It does not protect organizations from penalties or prosecutions under OHS regulations.  Nor does it exempt them from compliance with the OHS statutes and regulations.

All Systems are not Equal

The system is only as good as its implementation. Effective health and safety management means that organizations must ensure they are looking at all the potential risks within the organization. An OHSMS encompasses more than just the organization's health and safety program. It includes its health and safety policies, procedures, standards, and records.  It involves incorporating health and safety activities and program elements into the organization's other business processes.

An effective management system will improve an organization's ability to continuously identify hazards, control risks and prevent accidents.

[1] Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada, 2015 Statistical Report.

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