ISO 45001, the standard for occupational health and safety (OH&S)

According to Fedris, the federal agency for occupational risks, every year about 90.000 work-related accidents are registered in Belgium. However, many occupational accidents are never declared, meaning the actual figure is much higher. The conclusion: safety in the workplace is still a burning problem. This not only leads to a heavy human toll, but also costs our economy and business life enormous amounts of money.
Organisations that focus on a healthy and safe work environment can lower the costs of insurance premiums and absenteeism. Moreover, they increase productivity and employee satisfaction, a win-win situation.
  1. What is ISO 45001 ?
  2. The difference between ISO 45001 and VCA
  3. Why implement ISO 45001?
  4. ISO 45001 is meant for whom?
  5. Certification ISO 45001
  6. External audit ISO 45001
  7. Trainings for ISO 45001

Employees not only expect a healthy and safe workspace, they also perform better when there’s certainty about their occupational health and safety.


Heidi Vandenhende, trainer ISO 45001 at NBN Learning Solutions

How do you get started? ISO 45001 is an deal starting point. This international management standard contains the requirements for a management system that entirely evolves around occupational health and safety (OH&S).

Do you want to get started straightaway with the requirements for a strong OH&S management system?

Purchase NBN ISO 45001:2018 from NBN. The standard is available in English, Dutch and French.

1. What is ISO 45001 ?

ISO 45001 (Occupational health and safety management systems – Requirements with guidance for use) helps organisations to create a healthy and safe workspace. In offices, factories, open spaces and other work environments. The standard replaces the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001, the British standard for OH&S that was internationally used. There is a transition period until March 2021. Organisations that possess an OHSAS certificate have until then to make the switch to ISO 45001. After March 2021, OHSAS 18001 certificates will be invalid. 

2. The difference between ISO 45001 and VCA

ISO 45001 and VCA (Safety, Health and Environment Checklist for Contractors) have the same objective: a healthy and safe workplace. Even more, you can get certified for both and thus make a statement towards your employees and the outside world, but should you go for ISO 45001 or VCA? That depends on your needs and wishes.


« How? » vs. « What ? »

The main difference is that VCA has a more practical point of view. Hence the word ‘checklist’ in its name. For example, VCA pays a lot of attention to concrete aids and how you apply them. ISO 45001 gives you more freedom in ‘how’ you organise occupational health and safety. The management standard mainly focuses on ‘what’ you need to get in place, on both strategic and operational levels. For every part of your management system there is a set of requirements. You then decide which means and resources you use to comply with the requirements.   


Integration or not ?

VCA has more than earned its merits over the years, but it also has an intrinsic limitation: it’s a stand-alone checklist. With the arrival of ISO 45001 you can now integrate your occupational health and safety procedures in a wider management system. Extra bonus: if you already use ISO 9001 (quality management), ISO 14001 (environmental management) or a different management standard, you save yourself a lot of time. Not only the type of requirements and the continuous improvement cycle will feel familiar, you could also combine audits in case you’d like to get certified.


International or regional ?

Choosing between VCA and ISO 45001 also has a geographical argument to it. VCA only serves to add value in Belgium, the Netherlands and certain parts of France and Germany. If you operate in various countries, you’re better off focusing on ISO 45001. That international standard is recognised from Australia to Canada.

Our advice: do you know what you’re doing, but need a practical checklist to get results, go for VCA. Do you want to systematically improve your OH&S and give it a strategic place in your (international) organisation, stick with ISO 45001.


ISO 45001: 10 chapters

ISO 45001 is – just as tens of other ISO management standards – elaborated with the High-Level Structure (HLS). In short, this means that all management standards have a uniform basic structure and similar requirements. Your benefit: you can easily combine several management standards into one management system. For example, occupational health and safety goes well with quality management (ISO 9001) and environmental management (ISO 14001).

The High-Level Structure makes management standards even more accessible

Hendrik Decroos is a representant for Belgium and NBN in the international workgroup that revises the HLS. In this testimonial he explains why the HLS is such a blessing for organisations looking to integrate various management standards into their operations. 

More concretely, the HLS means that ISO 45001 contains these 10 chapters:

  1. Scope
  2. Normative references
  3. Terms and definitions
  4. Context of the organisation
  5. Leadership
  6. Planning
  7. Support
  8. Operation
  9. Performance evaluation
  10. Improvement

3. Why implement ISO 45001?

The biggest advantages of a management system based on ISO 45001 :

  • Less accidents and illnesses: this is the number 1 result of a solid management system for Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S).
  • Lower costs: you spend less on insurance premiums, while employee retention raises and there’s less need for short-term and long-term replacements.
  • Stronger reputation: an organisation that prioritises the health and safety of its employees gains ample recognition.
  • More commitment: everyone, including members of the direction, receives an active role in creating an OH&S culture.
  • Tailor made to every organisation: public and private organisations can implement the standard, regardless of size or sector.
  • Asset for employer branding: candidates that are considering working for your organisation, want to know that they’ll end up in a healthy and safe workplace.

4. ISO 45001 is meant for whom?

Each organisation with employees, whether they are labourers or service workers, benefits from a healthy and safe work environment. Therefore, the standard is a value-adding tool for organisations in all sectors, big or small: micro businesses, SMEs, large enterprises and multinationals, research and educational facilities, NGOs, etc.

5. Certification ISO 45001

ISO 45001, the international standard for occupational health and safety, only exists since 2018, but according to the latest ISO Survey (end 2018) worldwide 11.952 organisations have a certificate for ISO 45001, of which 46 in Belgium. 

What is an ISO 45001 certificate?

A certificate is an objective and written proof that your organisation complies with all the requirements in ISO 45001. You receive one after an accredited certification institution confirms the correct and complete implementation of the management standard through an audit. The certificate is valid for 3 years. Afterwards, you go through the process again to renew your certificate (if you want). Meanwhile, there’ll be annual control audits.

Careful: certification for ISO 45001 is – just as the implementation of the standard itself – voluntary


Why obtain an ISO 45001 certificate?

Although certification is not mandatory, it does give you a lot of benefits. These are the 5 biggest benefits of an ISO 45001 certificate:

  1. More certainty: by undergoing external audits, the management is guaranteed that the risks are identified and dealt with. This also applies to opportunities. 
  2. Credible image: you not only say that you care about your employees, you can also prove it. A certificate increases confidence from prospects, clients, suppliers, shareholders, partners, (potential) employees and other stakeholders.
  3. An asset for tenders: an increasing number of governments and private organisations include a strong performance on OH&S as a requirement for tenders. If you can show a certificate for ISO 45001 or show that you are working towards one, you can tick this box.
  4. Continuous improvement of your OH&S policy: obtaining a certificate implies undergoing periodic audits. This forces you to constantly optimise your management system.

How to get an ISO 45001 certificate?

Although ISO and NBN facilitate the development of standards, these organisations are not involved in the certification process. In other words, you can never be certified by ISO or NBN. That is the job of independent certification institutions after a positive evaluation.


Which institutions issue certificates for ISO 45001?

In Belgium, there are a number of institutions that issue ISO 45001 certificates after you successfully pass an audit. However, not all of them are accredited by BELAC, the Belgian accreditation institution. This is not mandatory, but an accredited certification institution does offer you more certainty of a thorough audit process. Why? Accreditation is a proof of technical competence, independency and impartiality.

You’ll find a list of all accredited institutions in Belgium on the website of BELAC, the Belgian accreditation institution.

Certification ISO 45001: roadmap

Do you plan on getting your OH&S management system certified? These steps will help you get a positive evaluation:

  1. Raise support - An adjusted policy on the work floor affects everybody. The first step is to get everyone on the same page, direction members as well as other employees. They all need to be convinced of the added value of a management system for occupational health and safety.
  2. Purchase NBN ISO 45001:2018 - Go to our e-shop and purchase the Dutch, English or French version of the standard. That way, you’ll have all the requirements close-by.
  3. Get some training - Before you start, make sure to fully understand the OH&S principles stated in ISO 45001. NBN Learning Solutions organises training courses and learning pathways to get your project going in a short amount of time.
  4. Conduct a baseline measurement - Do this yourself, with colleagues or external consultants. This analysis of the current and wanted situation shows you what you need to work on.
  5. Prepare - Put together a roadmap with concrete objectives for your organisation and management. Afterwards, lay out a feasible but ambitious retro planning. Distribute roles and responsibilities.
  6. Communicate - As soon as you have visualised the rollout of your management system, inform all relevant stakeholders. That will make the implementation of the management standard smoother.
  7. Implement - Execute all planned actions and gradually work towards the full implementation of the management standard. Adjust when necessary.
  8. Internal audit - An internal audit assesses if you have implemented ISO 45001 correctly. It’s not only a general repetition for the certification audit, it’s also a mandatory requirement within a certification process.
  9. Certification audit - Contact a certification institution for an audit. During the audit: discuss shortcomings and ways to approach them.
  10. Certification - If your organisation complies with all the requirements, you’ll get certified. View this a starting point for the continuous improvement of your OH&S management system.

How long it takes you to complete this roadmap depends on the size, complexity and maturity of your organisation. Some do it in 6 months, while others need 3 or more years.

ISO 45001 certification: costs

The costs depend on many factors. Do you implement the management system yourself or do you call in the help of external service providers? Moreover, the size and complexity of your organisation play a big part. In any case, you need to appoint a certification institution to conduct the audits. Normally, you sign a 3-year contract with one of them – the validity period of a certificate.

6. External audit ISO 45001

An independent certification institution evaluates if your management system complies with all the requirements in ISO 45001.


What does an external audit imply?

Three months after the full implementation of the management standard, you can initiate the certification process and plan an audit. That audit will, depending on the size of your organisation, take 1 or more days. Are your departments spread over various locations? Remember the auditor will need to visit all relevant facilities.

The initial certification audit consists of 2 phases:

  • phase 1 : the auditor verifies the structure of your management system and the documented information. Besides that, he or she assesses the specific circumstances of your organisation. At the end, the auditor shares his or her conclusions and your readiness for phase 2, including possible points of attention.
  • phase 2 : the auditor evaluates the implementation and the effectiveness of your management system for occupational health and safety. This is done by interviewing various stakeholders to prove (non-)conformity.


What to do after the audit?

After the audit, the certification institution decides if you implemented the requirements in ISO 45001 correctly. These are the possible outcomes:

  • A negative advice means you receive a report with big and/or small non-conformities and points of attention. Most likely, you’ll need to undergo an additional audit.
  • In case of a positive advice under conditions, certification can only take place after correction of the addressed elements and the redaction of a related plan of action.
  • A positive advice means you receive a certificate. Afterwards, the auditor will stop by on a yearly basis for control audits of your management system Every 3 years – the validity period of a certificate – you can apply for the renewal of your certificate.


How to prepare for an audit?

These 4 tips increase your chances of success:

  1. Conduct an internal audit – with or without external help – to detect shortcomings.
  2. Make sure the management is present during the audit and that all employees are aware of the audit.
  3. Make sure all necessary documents can be found easily and check if they are redacted with the terminology of the standard.
  4. Draft a list with successful, measurable actions and projects that stimulate continuous improvement.

7. Trainings for ISO 45001


Do you want to get to know the ISO 45001 management standard better? The follow our basic training or expert training.

  • E-Learning: an interactive, online learning platform about the basics of ISO 45001. With theory, examples, videos and exercises. Put together by experts. You learn everything about health and safety and the ISO 45001 standard.

The ideal training, because you: don't need any prior knowledge, learn where and when you want, receive a one-year access to the learning platform and obtain a diploma.

Read more about the e-learning (available in NL and FR)

  • Master Track: a unique learning programme about health and safety management to expand  your expertise. The course comprises 4 parts: an introduction to ISO 45001, two in-depth classroom sessions and a final test with a classroom presentation.

The ideal training, because you: all start with the same prior knowledge, learn to interpret and use the ISO 45001 standards, get to know management techniques, make your first steps in the world of health and safety management audits and obtain a diploma.

Sign up for the Master Track (available in NL and FR)

Ready to get started with NBN ISO 45001:2018?

Purchase the standard in the NBN e-shop. That way, you immediately get an overview of all requirements for an effective management system for occupational health and safety.

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