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World Day for Safety and Health at Work - OSH Management system: A tool for continual improvement

Each year, governments, employers and workers mark the World Day for Safety and Health. This year’s theme for the day is “Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Management System: A tool for continual improvement”. Improvement is in fact needed: according to ILO data, an estimated 337 million workplace accidents and 2.3 million deaths occur per year, or some 6,300 deaths every day. ILO Online examines how OSH management systems can make a difference.

Article | 26 April 2011

What are OSH Management Systems, and how can they help prevent workplace accidents?

Today, global OSH strategies mainly include building and maintaining a national preventative safety and health culture and the introduction of a systems approach to OSH management. An OSH Management System (OSHMS) can be seen as an important preventative tool to effectively manage hazards and risks at work. It is based on OSH criteria, standards and performance, and, more importantly, it aims to establish a comprehensive and structured mechanism for action for both managers and workers when implementing safety and health measures. An OSH Management System follows a logical, step-by-step method to determine what needs to be done, how best to do it, monitor progress, evaluate how well it is done and identify areas for improvement. Perhaps most importantly, it is a mechanism meant for constant and continual improvement.

What is the ILO’s role in promoting OSH Management Systems?

The ILO’s Guidelines on Occupational safety and health management systems, adopted in 2001, have become the benchmark for developing OSH management systems standards and the most widely used model at both national and enterprise levels. The ILO provides technical assistance to countries interested in implementing their own OSH management systems and offers training courses on the subject. In addition, the systems approach for OSH management will be one of the priority areas for discussion at the XIX World Congress on Safety and Health at Work being co-organized by the ILO in Istanbul in September. For more information about the World Congress, see www.safety2011turkey.org.

Can you give us concrete examples?

Countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Israel and Ireland have formally recognized the ILO guidelines as a model for national promotion or the development of OSHMS guidelines adapted to their national needs. The French standardization organization (AFNOR) promotes ILO guidelines based on the resolution of its committee responsible for OSH strategies.. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has just started a three year programme to implement ILO-OSH 2001 in medium and large enterprises. In Japan, tailored guidelines have been developed using ILO guidelines as a model.

How can OSH management systems help the implementation of policies on a national level?

As occupational safety and health is a complex area that relies on the involvement of many disciplines and stakeholders, using a management systems approach can help bring about coherence, coordination, simplification and speed in the inclusion of regulatory requirements into any OSH measures on a national level.

Why are OSH management systems relevant to enterprises?

Implementation and compliance with the OSH requirements under national laws and regulations is the responsibility of employers. Using a systems approach to the management of OSH in an enterprise ensures that the level of both protection and prevention is continuously evaluated and improved. However, management systems should not be seen as a universal remedy and it is key that organizations analyze their needs vis-à-vis their means and tailor their OSH systems accordingly.

How can workers help implement an OSH management system?

OSHMS cannot function properly without effective social dialogue through, for instance, joint safety and health committees or collective bargaining arrangements. Workers and their representatives should be given the opportunity to fully participate in the management of OSHMS in an organization. Only when all stakeholders are awarded responsibilities in maintaining it can an OSHMS system be successful.

How can such systems be applied to high risk sectors?

The chemical and energy sectors (whether nuclear, coal or oil-based) are high risk sectors where OSH management systems were first applied and used. Major industrial accidents such as the 1974 cyclohexane vapour cloud explosion at Flixborough in the UK, the 1984 Bhopal methyl isocyanate leak that killed thousands of people in India, the Chernobyl nuclear power station explosion and melt down in 1986 or more recently the 2001 ammonium nitrate explosion at the AZF plant in France, illustrate the catastrophic capabilities of industrial installations and the consequences of OSH management malfunction. Many of these events prompted the development of regulatory and technical tools to set very stringent hazard and risk assessment procedures. The ILO also developed a manual on Major Hazard Control, (1993) aimed at assisting countries in the development of control systems and programmes for major hazard installations.

By providing coherent, step-by-step and logical approach, OSH management systems can be effective in reducing accidents in these areas. These systems can be tailored to the management of hazards specific to a given industry or process, and in particular high risk sectors where the implementation of preventive and protective measures require a comprehensive and organized risk evaluation.

Tags: working conditions, occupational safety and health

Unit responsible: Labour Administration, Labour Inspection and Occupational Safety and Health

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