Health & Safety Management Systems: Your way or the [ISO] highway?

Implementing Health & Safety Management Systems

A significant challenge that many have faced when implementing a new Health & Safety management system, is the translation of management processes and procedures into deliverables at a site level.

Often, policies and procedures are written based on internationally recognised standards such as ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and ISO 45001, rather than what is actually used by the business.

ISO Standards: Square peg, round hole?

Businesses then try and sometimes fail to demonstrate ‘real world’ examples of how these systems and processes are actually used.

This is particularly as the standards they are basing their processes and ways of working on are usually industry agnostic and could apply to every sized business from a sole trader through to a multi-national PLC in almost any industry.

30 page policies vs single page documents

If you are a business with 5 employees and 3 pieces of machinery, you don’t need a 30 page document describing how you keep track of you company assets just because the ISO standard states you need an asset register. A simple spreadsheet or single page document listing those 3 machines will suffice.

Equally, if you are a multi-national PLC, with teams of people working on projects spanning multi departments, countries and legal jurisdictions, a signature from a single person is unlikely to be how annual budgets spanning millions are approved.

The auditors are coming… / the sky is falling in

 How many times have you seen an operations manager or quality manager dust off the lever arch folders from the filing cabinet around the same time each year? You know, the folders that act as the Management System and keeps all of your paper forms, documents and job sheets together in a not-so-neat jumble.

That can only mean one thing. The auditors are coming…

Copies of order forms are missing information, filled in differently by different people or missing altogether. Handwriting and faded paper make the information near impossible to read and there is always one sheet that used to have all the receipts stapled to the back of it, now just showing the empty staple holes.

This can be fairly typical of organisations that need to achieve and maintain the ISO standards to meet either customer or supplier requirements but are yet to fully integrate systems with business processes.

Statement of applicability – how we do things around here

Businesses that truly succeed at developing and implementing externally certified management systems are those who are able to apply the ‘how we do things around here’ philosophy.

These businesses use the ISO standards to provide a framework and identify which of their existing business process meet the requirements rather than writing policies to meet the standard.

By focusing on how we actually do this in this business, we can provide the evidence required for not only audit purposes but provide a true reflection of operations.

In our view, ISO as well as many other standards, are a well known way of showing your customers, suppliers and other stakeholders that your business practices follow a certain level of quality. However, that doesn’t mean you should add policies or procedures to your business if they do not reflect how you operate, identify missing best practices or add value.

So how can you reflect your way of working and meet ISO requirements? Anyone who has been involved in an external ISO audit will know a large part of the audit itself, comes down to evidence. Commonly, this is where even organisations with the most mature management system still struggle to demonstrate the implementation of the end-to-end process. Where processes are written with clauses of standards in mind rather than operational need, there is the risk of the process being un-workable in practice. This presents the risk of operation deviation and the potential for non-conformance or incident. The challenge to achieving this is ensuring consistency of approach, both in relation to the format of information being collected and the method of collating information for future review. Evidence of process implementation should be organic and developed through the completion of normal, day-to-day operations within the business. If you would like to find out how our Work Packs SHEQ management system can help provide evidence, achieve & maintain ISO standard and reflect how you operate, get in touch today.
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