Is the World Ready for a Safety and Health Management Standard?

By Mansdorf, Zack | Occupational Hazards, November 1996 | Go to article overview

Is the World Ready for a Safety and Health Management Standard?


Mansdorf, Zack, Occupational Hazards


I am excited to see a systematic approach to occupational safety and health that integrates these functions into the management of operations.

In my September article, "Moving to an International Standard for Occupational Safety and Health," I promised to review the discussions that took place in Geneva at the ISO international workshop. I'll do that here. Moreover, I won't hold the reader in suspense as to what conclusion was reached in Geneva.

The meeting ended with a majority of the participants recommending that ISO not initiate the development of a standard for occupational health and safety management systems (OHSMS) at this time. While the final decision is complicated by ISO operating procedures and politics, my guess is that ISO will form a study group of some type to further evaluate the issue. Whatever ISO decides, it was clear that an ISO standard at this time is very unlikely. Nevertheless, many countries are plunging ahead on development of their own national standards or guides on occupational health and safety management systems. From a professional point of view, the desired effect -- a systematic approach to occupational health and safety management that is integrated with other business functions -- has been achieved. That is good for the profession and the protection of workers.

ISO International Workshop

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) held what it termed a discussional workshop on the OHSMS issue in Geneva, Switzerland, on Sept. 5,1996. The meeting lasted two days, with more requests for participation than could be accommodated. There were over 300 official participants from 44 countries and six international organizations.

The U.S. delegation included representatives from AIHA, ASSE, NFPA, ANSI, OSHA and other organizations including trade associations, industry and labor. In fact, the U.S. delegation was by far the largest of those attending with 45 official participants. Other countries with large delegations included France, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, Denmark, Indonesia, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, Malaysia, Netherlands, Korea, China, Australia, Argentina, South Africa and Spain. The remaining countries had three delegates or less in attendance.

The workshop, a term used by ISO to describe the meeting, was organized into two sessions. The first session included a morning overview titled "Setting the global context of management standards." This was followed by afternoon breakout sessions for employers/industry, labor, government, and insurance and other stakeholders. These groups reconvened the next morning, followed by presentations by the rapporteur (basically a person designated to summarize the session) for each group. Before the close of the workshop, time was allowed for statements by those countries that had formulated an official position.

Opening Session

John Kean, vice president of ISO, opened the meeting. Noting that over 420 requests for attendance were received but that space was limited to 340 seats, he commented that the turnout and interest in the topic exceeded ISO's expectations.

U.S. delegate Ed Kelly, representing the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), stated that his organization did not see a need for an OHSMS in the electric industries.

Takala Jukka, chief of the occupational safety and health branch of the International Labour Office (ILO) in Geneva, said ILO estimates that there are about 125 million accidents and over 220,000 worker fatalities annually. He made the dramatic statement that over 500 people go to work each day never to return. While the fatality rate varies from 6 to 8 per 100,000 workers for most developed countries, it can be 20 fumes higher in some occupations. In the present era, he concluded, unsafe acts and conditions are a symptom of poor management. While it would appear that the address by Jukka provided strong support for an ISO OHSMS, it later became clear that labor did not feel its concerns and point of view would be adequately represented in the ISO process. …

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