Sustainability Audits

| May 3, 2011

OHSAS 18001 requires both audits of sustainability and audits for sustainability.

What does this mean?  What is the difference?

These two types of audits relate to two different definitions of sustainability.

The first definition, derived from the Brundtland Commission Report’s definition of sustainable development, is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  Although originally environmentally focused, this concept has evolved to include other components as well.  Notably, for occupational health and safety, sustainability is seen as including the actions and conditions that affect all members of society including workers (the “social” component). 

The second definition, the dictionary definition, is to “endure without giving way.”  This concept of sustainability is focused on survival and maintenance in the face of changing conditions.  This is often referred to as management of change.  As stated in section of OHSAS 18002, “The organization should manage and control any changes that can affect or impact its OH&S hazards and risks”.

The internal audit element of OHSAS 18001 (section 4.5.5) requires that audits be conducted in order to make the following three types of determinations:

  1.  the OHSMS conforms to the OHSAS 18001 requirements and the organization’s planned arrangements;
  2. the OHSMS is properly implemented and maintained; and
  3. the OHSMS is effective in meeting the organization’s policy and objectives.

Many organizations focus almost exclusively on conducting internal audits to determine conformance – the first type of determination listed in section 4.5.5.  These organizations often ignore the other two purposes of an internal audit listed in OHSAS 18001 – the requirements for sustainability audits.

The audit of sustainability, related to the concept of societal sustainability, needs to focus on the assessment of whether the OHSMS is effective in meeting the organization’s stated policies and objectives.  This is particularly the case for organizations who have issued public sustainability statements and policies that proclaim their commitment to worker protection.

The audit for sustainability, associated with management of change, needs to focus on the adequacy of the OHSMS in addressing changing conditions.   As I discussed in a previous blog, changing conditions is where many of the most significant OHS hazards lurk.  An OHSMS that is not robust in the face of changing conditions will not be effective in achieving the overall goal of preventing injury and ill health.

What to hear more about this? 

I will be speaking on Auditing Integrated Management Systems – The Impact of ISO 19011 as part of a roundtable discussion at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference (AIHCE 2011) on Tuesday, May 17, 2011.  This roundtable will focus on the topic of Integrated Solutions in Sustainable Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems.  A colleague of mine, Charles Redinger, will also be speaking in the same Roundtable on the evolution of integrated management systems.  You can check out his blog at  

I hope to see you there.

© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2011)

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Category: OHSMS Auditing, OHSMS Implementation

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