Working group on Safety and Health Management Systems

Picture of Chair and Scribes

Chairs - Gerard Scannell (photo not available) US, Cord Jones US 
Cochair - Peter Claffey EU
Scribe - Tom Mellish EU

Scope of US/EU Safety and Health Systems

The session began by delegates introducing who they were, their background, and their involvement in health and safety.

Norman Byrom, an EU delegate from the Health and Safety Executive in the UK, gave a paper from the perspective of EU legislators based primarily on the UK experience.

He spoke of early UK legislation arising from specific hazards but this has now given way to a more goal setting approach. He observed that the US appeared still to be dealing with health and safety as a means of controlling specific hazards.

A series of disasters led to changes in UK health and safety law and the approach to health and safety. A strong and active commitment to health and safety, health and safety given the same attention as other parts of business, line management responsibility, and a systematic approach to health and safety were seen as key to improving health and safety.

Norman then went on to describe the impact of the 1986 Single European Act and the 1989 Framework Directive, which introduced a hierarchical structure and collective prevention methods as the means of managing health and safety. This was translated in the UK in the form of a model framework of guidance, HSG65, on the managing of health and safety at work.

He then described the work of the Luxembourg Committee in the area of health and safety management systems. It was clear from guidance published by the Committee that there should not be a standard for occupational health and safety management systems and that, in particular, any voluntary standard, which was established, should not be subject to mandatory audit. Standards were only one way of implementing occupational health and safety management.

Tom Mellish, Health and Safety Policy Officer from the Trades Union Congress of the UK, delivered a paper from the view of the EU trade unions.

Tom outlined the changes that had occurred in the organization and structure of business and how working life and work patterns had changed in the last 20 years. This had lead to the need to rethink the way in which health and safety was managed so as to counter the new threats that arose due to the changing nature of work and work organization.

The casualization of work had lead to atypical forms of working which meant that issues such as health surveillance were more difficult to deal with.

The increase of mass unemployment also meant that workers became less secure and so were reluctant to raise problems regarding health and safety. The reporting of hazards had become an issue for trade unions as well as the enforcing authorities.

He outlined the financial cost of failing to manage health and safety (£18 billion or $26.1 billion in the UK) and underlined that over 70% of accidents were due to health and safety management failure.

He than went on to list some of the financial gains for business if health and safety was properly managed.

He emphasized that good health and safety management resulted in good business management.

Tom then went on to describe the need for employee and trade union involvement in any health and safety management process and emphasized the need for this involvement at the design stage, as well as that of implementation.

He raised the issue of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises and the lack of resources both financially and structurally they might possess and suggested ways that this might be met.

He then went on to describe the basic conditions that the Luxembourg Committee, a tripartite body, had stated were the basic conditions for effective occupational safety and health management systems models. (A copy of the paper is attached.)

Following these two opening presentations, a roundtable discussion ensued.

It became clear that the US had nothing similar to the legal structure, which exists in Europe. OSHA has only just promoted guidance, which proposed a rule that employees should be able to report a hazard without fear of reprisals.

There is a variety of approaches to health and safety legislation, with some states having clear requirements regarding health and safety management.

It was also reported that the federal government offices did have some element of health and safety in the contracts of state employees. It was also clear that major corporations also accepted their corporate responsibility for managing health and safety. This was an element of some companies' annual report.

By contrast the US mining industry is much more regulated, with federal inspections carried out two or four times a year, according to the nature of the site, and with a requirement for trade union or employee participation in the health and safety management process.

It was clear also that some corporations went beyond current legislation and were involved in auditing the health and safety performance of overseas contractors.

Discussion then led as to how employees in the US could become more involved. Some US companies were committed to being "union free" and that employee involvement in the management of health and safety would be seen by some as back door entryism by unions.

Attempts by OSHA to promote legislation, which would require employers to undertake hazard recognition and control, and to train employees to identify hazards, has so far been blocked. Studies on the efficacy and impact of these proposals are now underway but this may take several years.

Discussion then focused on development of an occupational health and safety management system in the Member States of the EU. The role of the European Commission in introducing and enforcing health and safety directives was explained. Evaluation of a country's implementation and enforcement of EC directives is carried out by Labour Inspectors from other Member States. Each inspection will look at policy, evaluation, and employee involvement.

An example was then given of the experience of Scandinavian countries in implementing OHSMS. In Norway, internal control systems were introduced in 1992 based on the experience of the offshore industry. Eighty percent of companies comply with the requirement, 50% of which were satisfactory.

The meeting then discussed the chemical industry and possible OSHA involvement. This led to a discussion about environmental standard ISO 14000 and the need to ensure performance measurement in a standard. It was noted that the word standard could be interpreted in a number of ways from legal necessity to an example of best practice.

The meeting then went on to discuss the very different cultures, which evidently existed in the US and the EU with regard to legislating on health and safety management and on employee involvement in the health and safety process. This was summarized as the US having a culture in which individual options were paramount whereas in Europe there was a general acceptance of the need to work for the good of the whole.

There was a need for the US to develop a culture of prevention and a systematic approach to health and safety management as against the current ad hoc approach.

Thursday, November 16, 2000

Conclusion of OHMS Session: Overview.

Mr. Seiji Machida , International Labour Organization Secretariat, gave a presentation on the ILO Programme on OHSMS.

The ILO was taking the opportunity of this seminar to take advice from delegates on OHSMS guidelines which the ILO were in the process of developing. A copy of the current draft proposals dated 5 October 2000 was circulated to the meeting. Mr. Machida gave the background to the development of the current proposals which would be finalized at a experts meeting in April 2001. It is proposed to send this final draft to the ILO Governing Council in June 2001 for ratification and publication.

Seiji explained that these guidelines were drafted so as they could be used at Regional, National or local level and could be tailored to suit particular industrial sectors.

The key concepts behind the guidelines were: continual improvement; employer leadership; worker participation; clear responsibility; and accountability.

The key issues identified in the draft guidelines were: assessment; performance measurement; tailored guidelines; small and medium sized enterprises; auditing; certification; and promotional measures. There may be the possibility of guidance being produced on certification for those companies or member states which may wish to participate.

The draft guidelines can be accessed on and comments on the draft should be sent to email address

In discussion it was emphasized that this was not a convention and therefore not a legal requirement. There was a further discussion on the voluntary nature of the guidelines.

The meeting went on to discuss the measurement of the effectiveness of management systems and the problems arising from the lack of harmonisation of accident/incident reporting across national boundaries. Multi-national companies have had to develop their own systems in order to have a cohesive approach across their organization.

The EC had given a lot of thought to this aspect and accident statistics since 1990. It has engaged in statistical information gathering, particularly on the causes of accident and was now trying to develop a unique system which could be used as a tool for comparison.

A number of the delegates emphasized that it was not always useful for companies to make comparisons with other companies or other countries. It was more useful to monitor the organization's own record as a means of measuring improvement in their OHSMS.


Mr. Elias Tsammousopolous, EU employers representative from Greece, gave a paper on the necessity for worker participation in the employers OHSMS.

It was particularly important that employees were involved before the system is put into operation. Another key time for consultation is when changes are to be made to the system or the working environment.

Elias made it clear that it was important for employers to persevere in their attempts to involve the workforce even though they may at first receive a negative response.

The European Framework Directive required consultation and participation of employees but this could be implemented according national laws. The nature of consultation varies widely across member states. The first Greek legislation on consultation was implemented in 1985 but over the years this too has changed.

Mr. Tsammousopolous then went on to describe the introduction of employee participation in the firm he was the safety manager and the resistance this had met because of union distrust of management's motives as well as the distrust by senior managers of unions. However, the introduction of the OHSMS with employee participation not only improved health and safety performance but industrial relations generally.

Jan Taft Rasmussen, Environmental Advisor to the LO, the Danish Confederations of Trade Unions, gave a paper on employee participation from the union viewpoint.

As a way of background, Jan said that these were 2.5 million workers in Denmark out of a population of 5 million. The LO confederation organized 1.5 million members. Almost 90% of the Danish population are in a union.

In Denmark, where there are five or more employees in a company, the staff have the right to elect a safety representative. This is not an obligation on the employer, therefore 40% of companies do not have elected safety representatives. There are different levels of involvement according to systems, procedures and daily work. In enterprises of 20 or more staff a safety committee is required.

Workers have a great deal more autonomy to organize their work. Decisions about work are taken on a daily basis by the group. It is important therefore that safety representatives have the responsibility, functions and authority as well as competence to make changes.

Safety reps have to be given the necessary time to undertake their functions but many safety reps use their own time as a matter if choice and not because of barriers put up by employers.

A particular incentive for doing well as health and safety and safety is that fines arising from health and safety failures are paid to the social partner. While this sounded an ideal system with extensive employee participation it was worth noting that 27% of workers changed their job in 1999 because of health and safety considerations.

Thursday PM: Employee Participation:

During discussion it was stated that there were no prohibitions on the setting up of joint committees in the U.S. However, such committees had to arise from an employee's initiative. In some states, it may be illegal for the employer to establish such a committee as they must be independent of the employer.

Jim Frederick, Industrial Hygienist with the USWA, referred to the paper by Frank Mirer, United Autoworkers Director of Health and Safety, which had been included in the delegates' pack. Jim said that one of the main barriers to employee involvement was fear and intimidation by the employer.

He said that there had to be fundamental rights for employees - to know and understand hazards; the right to refuse unsafe work; and the right to no loss of benefit for raising health and safety issues.

There was a need to involve workers in the measurement process which needed to include illnesses and not just accidents.

It was note that Health and Safety is a mandatory collective bargaining item in the U.S. National Labor Relations Act.

In discussion it was said that unions at first had been sued because of their involvement in the health and safety process of firms whose OHSMS had failed. This situation has since been rectified. It was also noted that in some States in firms where there was a mixture of union and non-union members of staff, non-members would receive the benefits achieved by the union. Unions had an obligation to non-members. The difference was that union members had protection and were therefore more active in health and safety.

The meeting went on to discuss the benefits and costs of health and safety management and why companies should get involved in good health and safety practice.

Health and Safety could be seen to bring both sides of industry together and help overcome a "them and us" attitude. Good health and safety management had direct impact on the good management of the business. It was voted, though, that there was still not a clear idea of what poor health and safety would cost an individual employer. It was important to establish clear cost implications for failing to manage health and safety as a "selling" tool. Employers wanted to see what the return would be on their investing in health and safety.

The meeting also looked at other way of promoting health and safety and suggested that much more needed doing within the school and college system so that young people were better prepared for the world of work and how to work safely.

Large organizations were also looking at ways they could influence their sub-contractors and suppliers.

The meeting felt that there had to be a more imaginative approach to "selling" health and safety.


The meeting discussed the outcomes from its discussions and identified the key elements it wanted reported back to the Plenary Session. These are as follows:

  • Explore a common global approach to recording and reporting accidents and incidents in the workplace.
  • The importance of worker involvement in the OHSMS.
  • Develop tools on Internal company benchmarking for companies of all sizes, including leading indicators.
  • Time-scale and practicalities of the implementation process for OHSMS.
  • Identify tools/tool kits for use by enterprises of all sizes.
  • The impact of education in preparing individuals for their working life.
  • Health and safety management systems work in certain companies. To move forward, discuss best practicalities on both sides of the Atlantic and identify what are those best practices.
  • The meeting agreed that the following elements represent categories of practices common to effective OHSMS
    • Policy
    • Organisation
    • Planning and Implementation
    • Measuring performance
    • Evaluation
    • Review.