Health and safety management systems – A new global standard

By Seán Marshall, WHS Officer

Often when health and safety issues arise at work, they revolve around obvious physical hazards like hazardous manual tasks, poorly maintained machinery or slippery floors. Sometimes there might be a near miss, or an incident where an injury has resulted. These issues can burn brightly and briefly, with a dispute eventually leading to their resolution.

Health and safety management systems – A new global standard

What is often left unresolved in health and safety disputes are the deeper problems – of which the issue may be only a symptom. The root cause of an incident is usually a failure of your employer’s broader management system. Or there are gaps in the system, that your managers are either unaware of or choose to ignore.

Even where system-based problems are raised by unions, employers opt to use management’s ‘right to manage’ argument, sometimes called ‘management prerogative’, to draw the line where negotiations end and the authority of management begins.

Putting aside the question of whether this was OK in the past, these arguments from employers can now be successfully challenged. Why is this?

The answer is AS/NZS ISO 45001:2018 (45001). It is the new global framework Standard, for organisations to build their work health and safety management systems around. In Australia, it is replacing the old Australian Standard AS/NZS:4801:2001.

45001 is the product of an intensive 4-year negotiation process conducted through the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). Through this process, a number of national union peak bodies, including the Australian Council of Trade Unions, have ensured that 45001 contains new opportunities for workers, union delegates, HSU organisers and health and safety representatives to assert their rights to healthy and safe work and to use the beneficial provisions of 45001 to organise around.

In practical terms, this means that the top management layer of executives and board members must now, with worker involvement, establish a strategic process for workers and their union representatives to make this participation happen.

Unfortunately, unlike most other health and safety documents, 45001 is not freely available. However, the ACTU has produced a Guide to 45001 which summarises it comprehensively. It includes a preliminary organising checklist and draft memorandum of understanding to set up a 45001 Health and Safety Committee for its joint implementation. This can be found at

The HSU is starting a process of systematically contacting employers in our sector to begin implementation of 45001. If you think your workplace could benefit from an improved health and safety management system, please email the HSU on