Prevention of workplace injuries and illnesses is a legal duty and constant challenge for employers. Charges laid by government entities against employers, in particular, for workplace accidents, focus on the reasonable steps or precautions not taken by the employer as opposed to the specific actions taken or in some cases not taken by a worker.

The defense to charges laid under occupational health and safety legislation is due diligence. What exactly is due diligence is often a question. In an effort to achieve "due diligence" we tend to focus on the collection of documentation instead of looking at our overall health and safety program or occupational health and safety management system.

Earlier this year, a new international standard was introduced specific to occupational health and safety: ISO 45001. In Canada, the CSA Z1000 is the national health and safety standard. If your organization is considering a formal health and safety management system, one standard may be better suited for your organization rather than another.

What are some of the similarities?

Both standards are based on the model, "Plan-Do-Check-Act". In general, this model may be used for management of change, for the development of a specific procedure or process, for the tracking of occupational health and safety statistics, and to identify opportunities for continual improvement in an overall health and safety management system. This type of model helps organizations identify when they are not meeting their legal and other requirements or sustaining health and safety targets and objects. It is the realization that you are not doing what you say you are doing.

Both standards are intended to be integrated or used in conjunction with other management systems. The standards should meld with any type of quality system, or perhaps environment system that is in place at the organization.

Both standards require participation by workers - either by representatives or committees. This of course goes hand in hand with the internal responsibility system and fulfills a worker's right to participate.

Both standards demonstrate that an organization has a commitment for occupational health and safety in their organization and the desire to meet legal requirements as well as other requirements, such as internal policies and programs.

Both standards assist organizations to recognize safety as an integral part of the process; not another step in the process or a separate work task. Employers and workers recognize that safety is not a "stand alone" item. A company then does not solely produce a widget; it is inherent that the company safely produces a widget.

What are some of the differences?

The major difference is the audience for each standard. Z1000 is intended for use by Canadian organizations or organizations doing business in Canada. ISO 45001 is intended for use by organizations having multiple global operations. It allows for several different legislated requirements to be followed, yet has a basis for consistency in health and safety within the organization no matter the global location of the business entity.

Another difference is the role of leadership within the management system. Z1000 requires senior management to provide leadership for the occupational health and safety activities in the organization and to assume the overall responsibility of the system. Z1000 requires that key roles are assigned to management representatives, but also recognizes that workers play a role in an occupational health and safety management system. ISO 45001 on the other hand requires management to demonstrate leadership and to plan that sufficient resources are available for a successful safety management system. Management is to assign responsibilities and accountability in order to prevent injuries and illness at the workplace.

Both standards focus on the need for the planning and implementation processes of the system and to monitor, evaluate and review the system's performance. Identification and assessment of hazards is prevalent as well as identification of deficiencies and opportunities for improvement through both internal and compliance audits.

Adopting a formal occupational health and safety management system will provide an organization guidance in providing a healthy and safe workplace. A formal system will provide a mechanism for an organization to prove a defence of due diligence in the event charges are laid for a violation of health and safety legislation. Determining the type of formal system to adopt is unique to the specific needs and requirements of the organization. Often the type of system will depend on the type of business as well as internal and external stakeholders. No matter which occupational health and safety management system your organization selects to implement, the commitment is made and the steps to proactively and consistently protect the health and safety of all workers begin.