Workers’ Memorial Day, or the World Day for Safety and Health At Work, gains considerable attention at local levels. In particular, Australia and Canada have a large number of commemorative events. However, the activities of the International Labor Organization (ILO) should not be ignored and the activities for 2011 are of particular note.
The Deputy General of the ILO, Juan Somavia, reminds us that in 2001 the ILO published its Guidelines on Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems, a document that has had a major influence on those countries that do not have the resources necessary to develop their own OHS regulatory support services.
Ten years after the release of that document the ILO has released a reflective report entitled “OSH Management System: A tool for continual improvement”. This report reads as a little simple for those who focus on occupational health and safety management systems (OHSMS) but every so often even the most specialised of professionals needs to be reminded of the basic building blocks of that profession. This is particularly so in countries like Australia, where the OHS profession is distracted by legal harmonisation, or England, where budget cuts and economic challenges are focussing business attention away from safety management.
The report reminds in plain English that
“The OSHMS approach ensures that:
- the implementation of preventive and protective measures is carried out in an efficient and coherent manner;
- pertinent policies are established;
- commitments are made;
- all the workplace elements to assess hazards and risks are considered, and
- management and workers are involved in the process at their level of responsibility”
But the ILO is not blinkered in its promotion of OHSMS. It identifies both strengths and limitations. Among the former are the
- Harmonisation of OHS with other business requirements such as quality and environment;
- The integration of OHS with business aims and objectives;
- Communicating effectively with stakeholders; and
- Establishing an “auditable baseline for performance evaluation”.
Some of the limitations identified include:
- “The production of documents and records needs to be controlled carefully to avoid defeating the purpose of the system by drowning it in excessive paperwork” (refer to recently expressed Australian business concerns);
- imbalances between OHS, quality and environment; and
- The potential neglect of health through the emphasis on safety.
The ILO report also includes a useful list of the key elements of a good OHSMS.
OHS law can sometimes be overwhelming, particularly for those who are not involved on a daily basis in the application of safety management to satisfy those laws, in other words, compliance. When managing safety with the aim of compliance, the legal debates about the ramifications of non-compliance are a secondary consideration.
The ILO report mentioned above is unlikely to be of much relevance to the academics and labour lawyers who are analysing OHS harmonisation but it should be of interest to those who are implementing safety management systems. The ILO report reminds us that safety management is a global discipline, even when we struggle with local applications.