ISO 45001 – Interpretation of clause 4.1 Understanding the organization and its context

ISO Standards, Management Systems

The Final Draft International Standard (FDIS) of ISO 45001, the Occupational Health and Safety Management System standard was published in late November with the final version to be published in February/March 2018. The final standard will be published with only very minor changes to the FDIS version. This is the first in a series of blogs, in which we will describe what the implementing company must do in order to meet the requirement of the draft standard. We will start with clause 4: Context of the organization.

Clause 4: Context of the organization

Clause 4 focusses the organization on defining what it is and does, and on what can affect its ability to manage its occupational health and safety responsibilities to achieve desired outcomes.

The desired outcomes include:

  • Improving the organization’s health and safety performance
  • Meeting its compliance obligations
  • Achieving its health and safety objectives

4.1 Understanding the organization and its context

The organization must understand the internal and external issues that can impact in a positive or negative manner on its health and safety performance including, inter alia, organizational culture and structure, and the external environment including cultural, social, political, legal, financial, technological, economic, market competition and natural factors of significance to its performance.

The company will be required to identify all relevant internal and external issues including conditions, characteristics or changing circumstances that can affect its occupational health and safety management system and then address those that require further attention.

External issues include the following:

  • The cultural, social, political, legal, financial, technological and economic conditions in which the company operates, whether at international, national, regional or local level;
  • The legislative framework in which the organization operates including statutory, regulatory and other forms of legal requirements;
  • Competition and market conditions;
  • Relationship with contractors, suppliers, partners and other external interested parties;
  • Key drivers and trends of relevance to the industry or sector in which the organization operates.

Internal issues include:

  • The size and complexity of the organization and the nature of the activities carried out therein;
  • The strategic direction of the organization, its policies and objectives;
  • Organizational governance and structure, roles and accountabilities;
  • The capability and capacity of the organization in terms of resources, knowledge and competence (e.g. capital, employee competencies, processes, systems and technologies);
  • Information systems: information flows and decision-making processes (both formal and informal) and the time frame within which they are accomplished;
  • The process for introducing new products, materials, services, tools, software, premises and equipment;
  • Organizational style and the health and safety culture of the organization;
  • The form and extent of contractual relationships, including, for example, outsourced activities;
  • Working time arrangements;
  • Working conditions;

An understanding of the organization and its context can be achieved at a strategic level by using techniques such as Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis, and Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, and Environmental (PESTLE) analysis. Alternatively, depending on the size and complexity of its operations, the organization can use a simpler approach, such as brainstorming and asking, “what if” questions.

A formal process or documented information is not required in order to satisfy the requirements of this sub-clause – the onus is on each organization to adopt the approach best suited to its circumstances. However, the process adopted by the organization to develop an understanding of its context should guide its efforts to plan, implement, maintain and continually improve its occupational health and safety management system.

It is recommended that the organization documents and periodically updates the process and its results as needed.

The results can be used to assist the organization in:

  • Setting the scope of its OH&S management system;
  • Determining the risks and opportunities that need to be addressed;
  • Developing or enhancing its OH&S policy;
  • Establishing its OH&S objectives;
  • Fulfilling its compliance obligations.
Health & Safety , ISO , ISO 45001 , ISO Standard Update , Occupational Health & Safety
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