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OHSAS 18001 is a British Standard for occupational health and safety management systems. It exists to help all kinds of organizations put in place demonstrably sound occupational health and safety performance. It is widely seen as the world’s most recognized occupational health and safety management systems standard.
Organizations worldwide recognize the need to control and improve health and safety performance, and do so with occupational health and safety management systems (OHSMS). However before 1999 there was a proliferation of national standards and proprietary certification schemes to choose from. This caused confusion and fragmentation in the market; undermined the credibility of each individual scheme; and potentially created trade barriers.
Recognizing this deficit, an international collaboration called The OHSAS Project Group was formed to create a single unified approach. The Group comprised representatives from National standards bodies, academic bodies, accreditation bodies, certification bodies and OSH institutions, with the UK’s national standards body, BSI Group, providing the secretariat. Drawing on the best of existing standards and schemes, the OHSAS Project Group published the OHSAS 18000 Series in 1999. The Series consisted of two specifications: 18001 provided requirements for an OHS management system and 18002 gave implementation guidelines. As of 2005, around 16,000 organizations in more than 80 countries were using the OHSAS 18001 specification. By 2009 more than 54,000 certificates had been issued in 116 countries to OHSAS or equivalent OHSMS standards.
The 18001 specification was updated in July 2007. Among other changes, the new specification was more closely aligned with the structures of ISO 14001:2004 and ISO 9001:2008 so that organizations could more easily adopt 18001 alongside existing management systems. Additionally the 'health' component of 'health and safety' was given greater emphasis.
Shortly later, BSI Group decided to adopt OHSAS 18001 as a British standard, hence ‘BS OHSAS 18001’. BSI Group subsequently adopted the updated 18002 guidance specification for publication as BS OHSAS 18002 in 2008.
Its proponents claim that an occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS) promotes a safe and healthy working environment by providing a framework that helps organizations to: consistently identify and control health and safety risks; reduce the potential for accidents; aid legislative compliance; and improve overall performance. The OHSAS 18000 standards provide organizations with the elements of an effective OHSMS that can be integrated with other management requirements and help organizations achieve better occupational health and safety performance and economic objectives. BS OHSAS 18001 specifies requirements for an OH&S management system to help an organization develop and implement a policy and objectives, which take into account legal requirements and information about OH&S risks. It applies to all types and sizes of organizations and accommodates diverse geographical, cultural and social conditions. BS OHSAS 18002 provides generic assistance for establishing, implementing or improving an OH&S management system, and demonstrates successful implementation of BS OHSAS 18001.
OHSAS 18001 can be aligned with existing ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 management systems. Historically many organizations start with a quality management system (ISO 9001) and then add the environment management requirements from ISO 14001. They then look at their health and safety risks and add OHSAS 18001. More recently many organizations look at implementing all three standards at the same time which can be cost-effective and minimizes disruption.
The OHSAS 18000 standards were written and published wholly outside of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) framework. At time of writing (November 2010) ISO has no plans to adopt the standards. To avoid confusion, ISO 18000 does exist – but it is a radio frequency identification standard.