I had the opportunity to lead a session at the Ergo Expo this past month on a topic that should be relevant to all safety professionals and ergonomics process owners. The title of the presentation was Applying ISO 45001 to Manage Your Ergonomics Process. After scanning the titles of other presentations, it was obvious that mine was a very unique topic. Reflecting on this led me to conclude why some ergonomics processes fail—a lack of a management system or standard to follow.
Many of the presentations focused on the tactical elements (both reactive and proactive) of injury reduction programs. On the reactive side, there was talk of return-to-work programs, stretching, job placement strategies, and functional capacity evaluations. These are relevant to an overall employee health strategy, but not to ergonomics, as it is defined by NIOSH. Several other presentations focused on proactive strategies and included risk factor identification/reduction, prevention through design, and case studies highlighting workplace improvements. These were effective in communicating ways to improve the workplace, which is great, but no other presentation touched on managing ergonomics as a business process.
With that, let me provide a quick history lesson on the management systems that safety and ergonomics owners have tried to adopt, so that you will better understand why ISO 45001 should be on your radar. Right now, there is no global standard for health and safety; ISO 45001 will be the first. There have been several non-safety and regional standards that the safety world has tried to follow in absence of having its own:
- ISO 9001 – Quality Management System
- ISO 14001 – Environmental Management System
- BS 8800 – British Safety Standard, designed strictly for the UK (1996)
- OHSAS 18011 – Updated British Safety Standard that was recognized internationally (1999)
- AS/NZS 4801 – Australia and International Labor Organization released guidelines (2001)
- ANSI Z10 – American National Standards Institute Safety Standard (2012)
I can see why there would be some confusion on the “one best way” to manage safety and ergonomics based on this menu of options.
All of the ISO standards follow the same model—one of continuous improvement defined by four steps: Plan, Do, Check, and Act (PDCA). ISO 45001 continues to include PDCA, but defines the steps as Planning, Support, Performance, and Improvement. There’s a slight difference in titles, but the focus remains on continuous improvement.
This strategy of managing ergonomics as a continuous process has been proven in studies and in practice. The key is to align the safety/ergonomics process with one that is most familiar to people in your organization, which is most likely one of the ISO Standards.
Now is the time to leverage this management system to provide structure and sustainability for your ergonomics process. For more information about ISO 45001, follow this link.