Employers concerned by ISO 45001: an unbalanced and impractical standard for SMEs

The IOE participated in the 6th meeting of ISO 45001 (Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems), which took place in Melaka, Malaysia from 18 to 23 September 2017.

The IOE has not been in favour of the ISO 45001 standardisation initiative from the outset, which has been viewed as interfering with legislative or collective bargaining competences, and although its comments on workers’ participation and SME issues were submitted and openly voiced a number of times, the final outcome is based on ISO countries' votes. There was also a lack of balanced representation of different interests and expertise in the working group.

Experts reviewed the Draft International Standard, which included an estimated 1,600 comments made by participating countries and liaison members including the IOE. Mr. Anis Fahmy bin Pauzi and Mr. Mike Chiam of the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) represented the IOE, with the aim of helping to shape the standard in a way that reflects the realities of the private sector.

While some improvements were made, the current text still contains two main issues:

1) Although ISO management system standards are not appropriate instruments to address worker participation rights, which remain the prerogative of legislators and social partners, the draft insists on the involvement of each individual employee in all areas of an OSH management system in addition to worker representation. The text states for example that workers should have the right to choose the OSH arrangement, which has always been the employer’s role.

The Workers' representative expressed a "sustained opposition", and commented on issues they (and the ILO) considered priority areas. These issues included: the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) at no cost to workers; the provision of training at no cost to workers and during working hours; and the implementation of arrangements that allow workers to report incidents, hazards and risks and to remove themselves from hazardous situations and to allow for protection from reprisals when doing so. These issues were not even considered for discussion. The adopted approach to processing comments was to use a 66 per cent majority to decide if a key issue should be addressed.

2) It will be challenging for SMEs to fully understand and therefore implement the provisions of ISO 45001. SMEs will be under pressure from their customers to obtain certification, which will come at a high cost. Some country delegates (notably Argentina, France and UK) shared this concern, however the ISO convener insisted that the development of the standard had given due consideration to SMEs.

The process has now reached the stage of moving to a final document (FDIS). ISO aims to publish ISO 45001 in March 2018.

For more information, please contact Pierre Vincensini, IOE Adviser