Will ILO Take the Lead on OSH Management Systems?

Article excerpt

A new player enters the controversial effort to develop an international standard for the management of occupational safety and health programs.

Over the last several years, there has been a great deal of controversy over development of a standardized approach to management systems for occupational safety and health (OSH). It appears that the International Standards Organization (ISO) will not proceed with an effort in this area, based on the April 19 international vote by ISO-member countries. That vote narrowly defeated a proposal by the British Standards Institute for an OSH management systems standard.

National voluntary standardization efforts, however, will continue on a country-by-country basis, including in the United States. This outcome might be viewed as predictable, given the politics involved. Yet, it leads to the very problem that ISO was created to resolve: widely varying approaches and requirements from country to country.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has recognized this problem and the potential advantages of a management systems approach. ILO's leaders believe it is the ideal organization -- representing government, management and labor -- to develop a model management system that members can use to develop their own national systems.

ILO considers safety culture and a management systems approach to be essential elements for the improvement of performance. Consequently, it has recently developed a draft "Guideline on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems (OSHMS)."

In this column, I will provide a primer on ILO, discuss the development of the draft, summarize some interesting aspects of the guidelines and discuss the probable future of this initiative.

Development of the Draft Guidance Document

The current draft OSHMS was initiated through a study performed by the International Occupational Hygiene Association for ILO. It compared various existing draft or final national and voluntary OSHMS approaches and included recommendations for what might constitute a model system. It was published approximately two years ago (available through ILO's Web site).

From this framework, a group of ILO experts crafted the draft OSHMS document. ILO member bodies will review this draft over the next year. A meeting of experts has been scheduled in April for "discussion and approval as general requirements regarding the development of both favorable national conditions and appropriate occupational safety and health management frameworks at enterprise levels."

Current Draft Guideline

The early draft is for review and not an approved document of ILO (and, hence, should not be quoted or referenced as such). Nevertheless, it is of interest to those following ongoing developments in this area. The draft is divided into seven major headings, 18 sections and eight annexes. A few sections are not complete and still under development.

The seven major headings are introduction, general, policy, organization, planning, measuring performance and evaluation. The annexes include assessment of hazards and risks, responsibilities of employers, duties and rights of workers, performance measurement, surveillance of the working environment, training and information system, risk assessment and worker's health surveillance. While much of the document is some-what standard to an OSH management systems approach, there are some aspects that are novel or will generate substantial discussion.

Management Systems Approach

The essence of the ILO management system approach is described within the scope section:

"An OSH management system concept prescribes 'what' should be covered and according to what criteria. 'How' remains the prerogative of the organization."

The draft document states that the main objective is to provide guidance to motivate managerial staff and workers in applying management systems aimed at increased OSH performance and higher productivity and to promote an improved framework and organization for OSH. …