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OHS Management Systems

Occupational health and safety management systems

Occupational health and safety management systems (OHSMSs) help organisations to continually improve their health and safety performance.

This guide will provide you with information on OHSMSs, requirements and tools that can help organisations develop them.

What Is An OHSMS?

An Occupational Health and Safety Management System (OHSMS) is a coordinated and systematic approach to managing health and safety risks. OHSMSs help organisations to continually improve their safety performance and compliance to health and safety legislation and standards. In doing so, they establish safer working environments that protect people at work by eliminating, or better managing, health and safety hazards.

Benefits Of An OHSMS

An OHSMS can benefit any organisation, no matter how small or large, by:

  • helping organisations create safer work environments
  • reducing injuries and injury-related costs – by pre-empting injuries, employers save money on medical expenses, the injured employee’s wages, insurance claim excesses,  replacement labour and increased workers’ compensation insurance premiums
  • improving business opportunities – many companies have preferential purchasing policies that favour purchasing products or services from companies with an OHSMS
  • providing measurable systems that can verify OHS performance
  • demonstrating that the organisation is meeting legal requirements, and
  • enhancing the organisation’s reputation

Research shows that there are clear links between good OHS management systems and long-term business efficiency.

Features Of An Effective OHSMS

Whether your organisation is large or small, complex or basic, your OHSMS should:

  • have top management commitment to managing OHS risk –  top management must demonstrate OHS leadership and promote the involvement of staff in the development and implementation of the OHSMS
  • be supported by the organisation’s overall management system – the organisation must provide corporate commitment and sufficient resources
  • make the OHSMS’s structures and processes visible to employees and relevant to all business activities all the time, and
  • ensure that OHSMSs are regularly updated because OHS risks can increase at busy times, or when changes are occurring (eg during restructures, changes of products and services, changes of suppliers).  The OHSMS needs to adjust to, and be appropriate for all circumstances
The 5 Steps Of An OHSMS

There are five steps to an effective OHSMS, and these steps form a continual cycle of improvement as shown in the image. Consultation is a key element of each step.

  1. Top management commitment and policy

The policy is a general plan of intent which guides or influences future decisions. It is the basis upon which measurable objectives and targets and the OHSMS is developed.

  1. Planning

Plan how to deliver the OHS policy, objectives and targets to ensure hazards arising from work activities are identified so that risks can be assessed and then controlled.

  1. Implementation

Implement the plan by developing the capabilities and support mechanisms necessary to achieve the OHS policy, objectives and targets.

  1. Measurement and evaluation

Measure, monitor and evaluate OHS performance, to determine the effectiveness of risk management, and if necessary take preventative and corrective action.

  1. Review and improvement

Review and continually improve the OHSMS, with the objective of improving OHS performance.

OHS professionals can help you develop an OHSMS.

OHSMS Audit Tools

WorkSafe has produced an Occupational Health and Safety Management System Quiz to assist businesses to quickly evaluate the current status of their OHSMS.

Once the OHSMS is in place it is important to regularly audit the system to determine whether it is operating as expected.

WorkSafe has developed an audit tool to assist with this process called SafetyMAP(Safety Management Achievement Program). SafetyMAP provides a set of audit criteria, which current performance can be measured against.

Other audit tools include:

SafetyMAP – Frequently Asked Questions
Health & Safety Management Systems
SafetyMAP Criteria:
What is a health and safety management system?

Australian Standard AS/NZS 4801:2001 states that an OHS Management System is “that part of the overall management system which includes organisational structure, planning activities, responsibilities, practices, procedures and resources for developing, implementing, achieving, reviewing and maintaining the OHS policy and so managing the risks associated with the business of the organisation.”

Health and safety needs to be managed just like other critical aspects of a business and the best way to do it is to adopt a systematic approach. Consider the other things you need to manage as part of your business: quality, productivity, finance, accounting, industrial relations, insurance etc. Having systems in place makes it easier to manage these things. The same applies to health and safety. Good health and safety management systems are good business.

What are the benefits of having a health and safety management system?

A good health and safety management system provides a more effective way of protecting employees and others from workplace injury and illness. Other benefits include:

  • Due diligence
    A health and safety system helps demonstrate that management is meeting its legal responsibilities for health and safety and is doing so effectively.
  • Consultation
    A systematic approach ensures that employees and other stakeholders become involved in the process and that health and safety concerns are managed before they become problems.
  • Performance verification
    Systems can be audited and monitored to provide independent verification that health and safety performance is meeting expectations. Gaps can be quickly identified and corrected.
  • Cost efficiencies
    A well-functioning health and safety management system will deliver long term cost efficiencies. Think about what your organisation can save by avoiding workplace injuries and illnesses as well as reducing any damage to property.
  • Competitive advantage
    Evidence of an effective health and safety program is often required under contract tendering processes. Good systems can give you an advantage over your competitors.Where can I get help to implement my health and safety management system?Industry associations, WorkSafe Agents, employer associations, trade unions, TAFEs, government agencies and private consultants can all provide assistance. Asking colleagues who operate similar businesses to your own can also be beneficial.

    WorkSafe maintains a database of a wide variety of services in the health and safety field – Health and Safety Consultants. The listing can be obtained from any WorkSafe office – view contact details

What is SafetyMAP and where can I get it?

SafetyMAP (Safety Management Achievement Program) is an audit tool designed by WorkSafe to help workplaces improve their ability to manage health and safety and so protect people at work.

SafetyMAP does not prescribe how to manage health and safety. What it provides is a systematic way of measuring how well health and safety is being managed. The design and flexibility of SafetyMAP enables users to:

  • evaluate the performance of their current health and safety systems
  • implement a cycle of continuous improvement
  • benchmark their health and safety performance against established criteria
  • gain recognition for the standards achieved.
Obtaining Safetymap
How will SafetyMAP help us to improve our health and safety?

SafetyMAP is an audit tool not a system, however the audit criteria can be used to provide guidance and direction on what features should be included in a health and safety program.

An essential part of SafetyMAP is the involvement of everyone in the workplace in the continual improvement process. Where the organisation identifies a problem, it makes the necessary changes and then reviews its progress. As new systems are introduced they are incorporated into the evaluation and review cycle. This process should be part of an overall plan for improving health and safety that includes realistic, achievable goals and timeframes.

The audit criteria can also be used to verify existing systems that are working well and to identify any failures or areas requiring fine tuning. This helps to determine priorities and to allocate resources in the way that best suits the organisations needs.

How do we get started with SafetyMAP?

Firstly, you need to evaluate your current health and safety management processes. A self assessment against the SafetyMAP criteria will help to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and help you to address deficiencies and develop an effective means of controlling the outcomes.

The next stage is to develop a plan, involve employees, set priorities and work steadily towards making good health and safety practices part of normal day-to-day business. You may require outside help to address some of the more technical aspects, however there are many things you can do.

Later on, you may want to consider getting an independent audit of your system to confirm that it is functioning correctly.

What is the difference between SafetyMAP Initial Level and SafetyMAP Advanced Level?

SafetyMAP Initial Level is a term used for a specified 82 of the 125 SafetyMAP audit criteria. These criteria were chosen because they describe the building blocks of an effective, integrated health and safety management system that would be capable of meeting legislative requirements in most organizations.

The remaining criteria cover the more “sophisticated” aspects or refinements that are needed to deliver continuous improvement. For example, at Initial level an organisation needs to establish a process for considering health and safety aspects when procuring services (3.10.2). The Advanced criteria introduce the necessary checks and balances i.e. contractor review activities (3.10.3 & 3.10.4). Organizations that regularly engage contractors are more likely to include these refinements as a necessary component of risk management.

SafetyMAP Advanced Level is the term used for all 125 SafetyMAP audit criteria (where applicable). Organizations operating at Advanced level have implemented a “best practice” health and safety management system environment.

What are SafetyMAP certificates and how do I get one?

Some organisations choose to seek external recognition of their achievements by undertaking an independent audit of their systems. This may lead to being awarded a SafetyMAP certificate.

SafetyMAP 4th edition certification is available at two levels of system performance:

  • Initial
  • Advanced

The Joint Accreditation System – Australia and New Zealand (JAS-ANZ) – maintains a list of accredited Conformity Assessment Bodies who can issue SafetyMAP certificates. The current list can be obtained from JAS-ANZ by telephoning (02) 6232 2000 or visit their website at

How much does a SafetyMAP audit cost?

The audit costs are determined by the Conformity Assessment Bodies based upon the size and complexity of the systems being audited, the level of certification being sought, the number of sites involved, travel distances and the amount of time spent on the process. Cost estimates can only be obtained from the Conformity Assessment Bodies themselves.

What are the requirements for SafetyMAP auditor competency and accreditation?

The Conformity Assessment Bodies must be able to demonstrate that their auditors meet standards laid down by JAS-ANZ in procedures. These procedures address, among other things, the OHS qualifications, work experience, training and auditing experience that the auditors must meet. JAS-ANZ audit teams will confirm this during their accreditation and surveillance audits. Conformity Assessment Bodies who do not comply with these requirements will not be accredited.

WorkSafe has not established a SafetyMAP auditor accreditation program or an accreditation program for other OHS professionals such as trainers, consultants or technical specialists. There are other organisations that offer registration programs for OHS auditors, but these are not exclusive to SafetyMAP.

Is there a link between SafetyMAP and Australian Standards?

SafetyMAP’s five elements follow the framework of Australian Standard AS/NZS 4801:2001 (Occupational health and safety management systems – Specification with guidance for use). This also links neatly with AS/NZS ISO 14001:2004 (Environmental management systems – Requirements with guidance for use) and AS/NZS ISO 9001:2008 (Quality management systems – Requirements).

In Victoria, the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 has superseded the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1985. Has SafetyMAP been updated to reflect this change?

SafetyMAP is not designed around specific legal requirements, so changes to the law in Victoria or other States should not result in any need to update SafetyMAP.

Which of the SafetyMAP criteria deal with the safe disposal of obsolete plant?

This issue is dealt with under criteria 3.10.7 (initial level). While the actual wording of the criteria refers to the disposal of “material and substances” the explanation in the workbook elaborates to show that the demolition or dismantling of plant and equipment is also included.

As with many other issues, the disposal of plant may also overlap more than one SafetyMAP criteria. For example, in Victoria the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007 place specific requirements on the suppliers of plant that is intended for scrap. Compliance with these requirements would be examined under criteria 2.1.2 and 3.2.3.

We are evaluating our documentation systems, what is the difference between SafetyMAP criteria 3.8.3 and 2.1.3 (both are initial level)?

While both of these criteria deal with the availability and access to health and safety related information, the difference is found in the explanations in the workbook. Criteria 3.8.3 refers to control of the organisation’s own health and safety documents, such as policies, procedures and work instructions, while 2.1.3 deals with legislation, standards, codes of practice etc. that are generated from outside of the organisation. Seen in the context of their relevant sub-headings, 3.8.3 is concerned with the process of document and data control while 2.1.3 is to do with keeping everyone informed about legislative matters and practical guidance on health and safety.

What health and safety requirements should be in the contracts that apply to “permanent” contractors, such as maintenance personnel or cleaners, who work for our organisation on an ongoing basis?

The arrangements regarding health and safety between your organisation and these contractors (whether they are engaged through a contracting company or as individuals) need to be understood by all parties. Guidance on the type of issues that may be relevant to your situation are contained in the explanation to 3.2.4 in the SafetyMAP workbook.

If these contractors are permanently on site it may be necessary to also involve them in the same health and safety activities undertaken by your own employees. This could include training, consultation, incident & hazard reporting, access control, emergency preparedness etc. The definitions in the SafetyMAP manual refer to “employees” as including casuals, part-time workers and long-term contractors so many other criteria will apply to them.

How can we be confident that our risk assessment process conforms to criteria 3.9.4?

SafetyMAP is not prescriptive about using any specific risk assessment methodology or format, and providing your preferred method covers all the following factors it would be considered as meeting the requirements of criteria 3.9.4.

The key factors to consider when evaluating risk assessments are:

  • they are based on the likelihood of an injury, illness or incident occurring and its consequences,
  • they reflect the current state of knowledge about the particular hazard,
  • they are conducted by persons competent in the chosen methodology,
  • they involve consultation with employees and/or their representatives,
  • they are documented and recorded, and
  • they comply with current OHS legislation, codes of practice, standards etc.

While your own records of past incidents and discussions with your employees can assist with this part of the process, you may also need to look wider by contacting a trade or industry association, your local regulatory authority, equipment manufacturers or suppliers, or a technically qualified consultant. A lot of valuable information is also available via the internet. More than likely you will need to make a judgement based on a number of these factors and it will help if you record what these were.

The main focus during an audit should be on the outcomes achieved from the risk assessment process, i.e. the hazard controls in place, and their effectiveness. It is also important that the system verifies that hazard controls are monitored to ensure that they remain in place and continue to be effective.

When auditing criteria 3.10.23 how do I assess the supervision of remote workers such as delivery drivers, service technicians, or others who work mostly on their own?

Supervision can take many forms depending on the nature of the tasks involved. Because remote workers are not in constant visual contact with their supervisor, there should be some other means of monitoring the health and safety aspects of what they do. This could involve communication at the beginning of the day to ascertain what they will be doing, where they are going, any problems they may encounter or safety information that they need to have. It may also entail making contact during the day to report back on progress, or at the end of the day to report that all went according to plan.

Some of the more important considerations for those who work on their own are that they have the training and competency to perform their job safely, the authority to stop work and seek clarification if they encounter health and safety problems, and a reliable means of contacting their supervisor when they need to. After weighing up all the risks, there may be some tasks where you decide that it is not safe for them work alone.

Does the 4th edition of SafetyMAP cover the testing and tagging of electrical cables, leads and RCDs etc?

While these devices are not specifically mentioned, they would generally be covered by the audit criteria that deals with the inspection and maintenance of plant and equipment, which is 3.10.15 (initial level).

Criteria 2.1.2 requires that an organisation’s internal procedures and work practices reflect legislative requirements, standards, codes of practice and guidelines and there is an Australian Standard (AS 3760) that deals with this testing and tagging, and in Victoria there is also an industry standard for electrical safety on construction sites.

For further information:

SafetyMAP queries: [email protected].
General safety queries: contact the Advisory Service