Occupational Safety

ISO 45001: The international standard for occupational health and safety

Learn all about the Harmonized Structure of the ISO 45001 and your path to certification

6 minutes12/03/2021

Organizations are subject to extensive legal requirements that oblige them to provide comprehensive health and safety protection in the workplace for their workers. For instance, they must carry out risk assessments and derive safety measures from them, continually improve health and safety protection, train and instruct their workers, and document all these activities. Introducing an OH&SMS provides organizations with a useful tool to ensure both the structured and continual implementation of actions and compliance with the legal requirements (“legal compliance”).

Furthermore, many companies consider ISO 45001 certification an essential criterion for forming business relationships with partners (e.g. suppliers). Having an OH&SMS certified under the international ISO 45001 standard is recommended to satisfy these complex requirements. Learn the most important facts about ISO 45001, including how to implement it in accordance with the High Level Structure on the basis of the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, along with tips for getting certified. 

ISO 45001

Since March 12th, 2018, occupational health and safety (OH&S) management systems have a new ISO standard: the ISO 45001. It repaces the previously applicable OHSAS 18001 standard. Companies with occupational health and safety management systems under OHSAS 18001 have had over three years since the publication of ISO 45001 to transition their systems to meet the requirements of the new standard. The original deadline was extended for an additional six months in light of the Corona pandemic and ended on September 30th, 2021.

Important benefits of ISO 45001 certification at a glance:

  • Proof that you have a modern OH&SMS based on an internationally recognized standard

  • Structured implementation of extensive legal requirements, improving on and/or ensuring legal compliance

  • Systematic improvement of the safety and health of your workers, resulting in positive effects on their motivation, identification with the organization, and productivity as well as on your organization’s image as an employer

  • Acceptance of your OH&S standard along the value chain

  • Improve on your competitive market position thanks to a better understanding of the organization’s context and interested parties as well as the potential risks and opportunities

The Harmonized Structure (HS) of ISO 45001

The structure and requirements of ISO 45001 are based on the Harmonized Structure. This is a unified structure, which applies to all new management system standards and consists of a set of ten clauses, with the requirements of the relevant management system set out in Clauses four to ten. Clauses one to three provide introductory information on the relevant standard, such as its scope of content , references to other norms and terms and definitions (however, in the case of ISO 45001 there are none). Therefore, ISO 45001 now too has a harmonized structure, just like ISO 9001 (quality management systems), 14001 (environmental management systems), and 50001 (energy management systems).

Plan-Do-Check-Act in ISO 45001

The HS is based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act management cycle (PDCA cycle) while adding a number of new or stricter requirements to it. The PDCA cycle in the HS comprises the following requirements:

plan iso 45001 high level structure


Clause 4 - Context of the organization: The organization should analyze both its external and internal environment in order to establish the scope of application of the OH&SMS as well as its processes based on this analysis.

Clause 5 -Leadership: Top management must demonstrate leadership through dedication and commitment, determine the OH&S policy and the necessary organizational structure, and involve their workers in the OH&SMS.

Clause 6 - Planning: The objectives and measures for the OH&SMS are derived from the identification of risks and opportunities as well as hazards.

do iso 45001 high level structure


Clause 7 - Support: Provision of the necessary resources, development of competence and awareness, internal and external communication, and documentation of the OH&SMS.

Clause 8 - Operation: Planning and management of the processes, focusing in particular on upstream, downstream, and outsourced processes, procurement, contractors, and business continuity management.

check iso 45001 high level structure


Clause 9 - Performance evaluation: Review of the OH&SMS through monitoring, measuring, analysis, and evaluation, internal system and compliance audits, and management evaluation.

act iso 45001 high level structure


Clause 10 - Improvement: Further development of the OH&SMS by eliminating nonconformities and implementing immediate and corrective actions.

Tips for successful certification under ISO 45001

Realistic timeline estimation

The time frame for migrating an existing OH&SMS or introducing a new system will depend on many different factors, such as the size and complexity of the organization and the degree of maturity of its existing management system(s). An average of 9 to 14 months can be regarded as realistic.

Support from software solutions

It may be very helpful to use a process-supporting software like Quentic during this process, as this can be customized to your own OH&SMS. Using the integrated checklists and guidance on actions provided there, the OH&SMS managers can plan their tasks in the OH&SMS (e.g., OH&S objectives, instructions, audits), document them (e.g., index of legal provisions, risk assessments), and analyze them (e.g., legal compliance, number of accidents). A software program can guide you through the project and help you manage your OH&SMS efficiently and present it clearly during internal or external audits. Your certification body or advisor will support you in performing a GAP audit or DELTA audit if need be.

Integrated Management System (IMS)

The harmonized structure of ISO 45001 highlights the significant similarities in the requirements to different other ISO management systems. If your organization implements or plans to implement other management systems you should consider an integrative approach. Without integrated regulation, parallel structures, processes, responsibilities, and documentation inevitably lead to redundancies and inefficient duplication of work. An Integrated Management System (IMS) is, therefore, essential to fully exploit the considerable synergy potential betweenmanagement systems and to optimize their use.

ISO 45001 checklists and more information

The ISO 45001:2018-03 can be purchased for 171,30 € (including VAT) and downloaded from the www.beuth.de website. It is advisable to first consult further free sources, such as whitepapers and webinars. In our whitepaper ISO 45001 – How to implement the international standard and get certified we explain the concrete requirements of ISO 45001. In addition, you’ll discover the exact steps you need to take to implement the standard or upgrade your existing occupational health and safety management system to fulfill ISO 45001. You will get a checklist with all the important details and steps. 

Preview our free whitepaper on the ISO 45001 standard