Many countries around the world are in the process of developing management standards for occupational health and safety, based on legislation, industry regulations and best practices.
An Occupational Health and Safety Management System (OHSMS) is essentially a directed and continuous cycle of planning, implementation, evaluation and improvement to help lessen an organisation’s occupational hazards.
An OHSMS is an HR-adjacent business function in that it is people-oriented and deals with the structural foundation of occupational health and safety; including policies, decision-making structures, technical resources, accountability structures and practices, hazard identification practices, hazard control and quality. Oftentimes, there is an overlap in oversight responsibilities with more specialised departments such as the Quality Assurance department in manufacturing.
International occupational health and safety regulatory framework
A country’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulatory Framework is the cornerstone of occupational safety and health legislation in that country. The primary aim of any such framework is to “provide for the health and safety of persons at work and for the health and safety of persons in connection with the use of plant and machinery; the protection of persons other than persons at work against hazards to health and safety arising out of or in connection with activities of persons at work; to establish an advisory council for occupational health and safety; and to provide for matters connected therewith” (standard OHS abstract). Additionally, there may be ancillary occupational safety and health laws (e.g. an Explosives Act or Hazardous Substances Act) and regulations (e.g. Regulations for the Integration of the Occupational Health and Safety Act).
You will need to have a working knowledge of your country’s OHS Framework as it pertains directly to your job if you want to become an OHS practitioner. Also, you need to understand the ground-level functioning of those specific business units you are assigned to as you may have scheduled inspections and other externally mandated actions.
What makes for a good OHSMS?
Firstly, a good OHSMS should speak directly to the nature of the business. Larger organisations will require more stringent measures in terms of policies etc. because enforcing them fairly across a greater section of the workforce is made more difficult. Also, this will mean that the occupational health and safety practitioner should customise an OHSMS geared towards limiting company risk while complying as much as possible with related legislation and industry regulations. There must be adequate time and resources provided to training, developing support structures, developing audit and reporting functions, and most of all – securing manager and executive buy-in. If the leaders of the company do not take the structures surrounding the OHSMS seriously, then an organisation can stand a huge risk. This may pose problems with regulatory bodies, law-enforcement and even employees. There is a noticeably higher staff turnover rate for companies where staff feel unsafe.
One last aspect a good OHSMS should have is an element of forecasting. How a business looks now may not be how it looks in four- or five-years’ time. To avoid having to redraft all documentation, make sure you leave room for the changing nature of the organisation, surrounding economic conditions and advances in technology. Be open to adding addenda where necessary to keep your compliance factors current and relevant.
Is OHSMS for you?
After reading this, if you’re thinking: I could do that! Then perhaps you should start exploring your options with a host of resources available on the web. From introductory videos on OHSMS, to online Occupational Health and Safety short courses, articles and downloadable PDFs – you have the information. The key is in using all of these, in tandem, to make yourself the type of OHS practitioner that organisations want to hire and work with.