ISO 45001: Useless without employee participation

Samstag, 9. August 2014 - 19:01

This is about employee participation by consultation, not about just limiting employee participation to shifting responsibilities to workers without co-determination. Why is consultation with employees important? It is, because the employers are the paying clients of the “conformity assessment bodies” (CABs). In the example below you will see, how employee representatives did the job which CABs should do.

Let’s take a Europan company. A certifier (an akkredited CAB) certified the OH&S management system of several company sites of a multinational enterprise based on the BS OHSAS 18001:2007 in the year 2008. However, even after several further audits it wasn’t the CAB who found out that the certificate just was a badge on the wall. The works council found the flaws. Then these employee representatives started to dig deeper.

  • The OH&S manual was based mainly on OHSAS 18001:1999 until December 2013. (Due date for the upgrade was end of July, 2009.)
  • The manual was the description of the OH&S management system and contained the company specific OH&S rules. Although the change of OH&S rules are subject to co-determination at all European company sites, the company changed and published the manual without any consultation with the employee representatives.
  • The company called changes in the “scope” section of the OH&S manual “Editorial Change” even though these changes had legal consequences and affected the whole manual. The altered manual was published without any signature. That is, the top management did not take any responsibility for the altered OH&S manual.
  • An employee who filed in an overwork report received a warning. He needed a lawyer to convince the company to withdraw the threat. As the allegations in the warning were unsubstantiated, the company finally had to withdraw the warning.
    The works council classified the unsubstantiated warning as a threat which is an incident as defined in clause 3.9 in OHSAS 18001:2007: A work-related event in which ill health (regardless of severity) could have occurred. (Ill health: Identifiable, adverse physical or mental condition arising from and/or made worse by a work activity and/or work-related situation.)
  • Another employee who filed in an overwork report was asked to accept less pay for a less stressful job. No incident evaluation was performed. The works council intervened successfully.
  • Until 2012 there were no co-determided processes to monitor and evaluate mental workload (ISO 10075).
  • Altered risk assessment forms were introduced without announcement to the works council.
  • Employees and their managers didn’t know anything about OHSAS 18001. They also didn’t know too much about the OH&S manual. The top management didn’t know too much about their OHSAS 18001 related obligations either.
  • Until 2013 employee representatives could not participate in audits conducted by the CAB.
  • The organization did not establish, implement and maintain a procedure for the participation of workers by their appropriate involvement in hazard identification, risk assessments and determination of controls - neither by their appropriate involvement in incident investigation, nor by their involvement in the development and review of OH&S policies and objectives, nor by their consultation where there are any changes that effect their OH&S, nor by their representation on OH&S matters. Workers were not informed about their OHSAS 18001 related participation arrangements. The CAB didn’t care. The employee representatives had to find that out themselves - and luckily did so.
  • The company tried to exclude the very member of the works council, who discovered these issues, from a meeting on integrating the corporate health management into the OH&S management system.

The works council finally understood and addressed these issues. The CAB didn’t. CABs check “the system”. Seemingly they don’t want to know how systems work in reality. If there is no serious employee participation, ISO 45001 certificates will be just badges on the wall as well.

As for developping the ISO 45001 standard, it should be considerered to improve on the audit rules for CABs and to use the Dutch SCCM audit scheme. That goes beyond ISO 17021. See also (mostly in German).

PS: There also are encouraging examples. I work for a company which e.g. has a joint commitee (employer plus employee representatives plus external experts) for mental workload risk evaluation. And the works council has ressources to conduct internal audits (ISO 19011) and to participate in external audits (also ISO 17021). It should be mandatory for modern works councils to acquire the capabilities to participate in such audits.

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