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What Are ISO Standards And How Do They Work?

What are ISO standards, and what is their benefit to organisations? That's the million dollar question, and one worth exploring before you to the time and effort of implementing them!

ISO the organisation administers over twenty thousand standards in all areas and sectors of industry. But by far the most widely used are these three:


  • ISO 9001:2015 (quality)

  • ISO 14001:2015 (environment)

  • ISO 45001:2018 (health and safety)


…and this one is becoming more and more popular in the current climate:


  • ISO 27001:2013 (information security)


The year after the colon is simply a reference to the last time they were updated. All ISO standards are reviewed every six to eight years and at this point they may or may not be updated. The version of ISO 9001 before the current one was 2008 (hence the designation you may have seen ISO 9001:2008). The one before this was ISO 9001:2000. So the actual period of time between a change in standards can vary. There are currently no plans to update the ISO 9001:2015 standard.


When a standard is updated, there is always a lengthy transition period to make any changes. The latest ISO 9001:2015 revision was introduced in September 2015, and companies certified under the previous version (ISO 9001:2008) were told that they had three years to transition. The deadline for ISO 9001:2015 transition was 15 September 2018, which gave companies plenty of time to prepare.


How popular are they?


There are over one million companies and organisations in over 170 countries certified to ISO 9001. There are more than 300,000 certifications to ISO 14001 to be found in 171 countries. Note that these figures are just ones who are certified, there may be many companies operating to these standards but not certified, or who are in the process of getting certification.


ISO 45001:2018 is a new standard, but with a long history. It is set to replace OHSAS 18001 - this was a British Standard for occupational health and safety management systems and compliance with it enabled organisations to demonstrate that they had a system in place for occupational health and safety.


It was born out of a time when organisations worldwide recognised the need to control and improve health and safety performance with an occupational health and safety management systems (OHSMS), however, before 1999 there was an increase of national standards and proprietary certification schemes to choose from. This caused confusion and fragmentation in the market and undermined the credibility of individual schemes.


Recognising this deficit, an international collaboration called the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) Project Group was formed to create a single unified approach. The Group comprised representatives from national standards bodies, academic bodies, accreditation bodies, certification bodies and occupational safety and health institutions, with the UK’s national standards body, BSI Group, providing the secretariat.


Drawing on the best of existing standards and schemes, the OHSAS Project Group published the OHSAS 18000 Series in 1999. The Series consisted of two specifications: 18001 provided requirements for an OHS management system and 18002 gave implementation guidelines.


These requirements were used in many companies around the world, however, they did not have the worldwide recognition that comes with a standard released by ISO, so a new ISO standard was voted upon and agreed by over 100 member nations from around the world. After a justification study the decision was made to release an OHSMS requirements standard from ISO.


In October 2013 the ISO 45001 standard was proposed, and a technical committee was formed, and worked until December 2015. From 2015 to 2017 a first draft failed to gain approval, but a second draft was approved. The finalised standard was published in March 2018.


After this point companies have three years - until March 2021 - to transition over to ISO 45001 if they have an OHSMS in place to the OHSAS 18001:2007 standard, at which point BSI will formally withdraw OSHAS 18001.


So at present it’s difficult to find definitive numbers on how many companies are certified due to the crossover from a British Standard to an ISO, but it’s particularly popular in manufacturing companies and any firms operating in the built environment. Indeed, it’s often a prerequisite to get on the supply chain lists of many large building firms.


Finally, there are around 34,000 ISO 27001 certifications issued worldwide, although this grew by a whopping 20% from 2018-2019 so as a standard it’s really starting to catch up.


So these are the standards we focus on as the key to improving your business.


Article originated in The Ideas Distillery blog


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