The proposed ISO 45001 Safety Management Systems standard creates a new requirement for implementation of the system in Section 4.1: Understanding the organization and its context. While relevant, this requirement is represents a somewhat nebulous requirement for organizations that have not previously spent a great deal of time in examining their context.
The requirement states: “the organization shall determine external and internal issues that are relevant to its purpose and objectives and that affect its ability to achieve the intended outcome(s) of its OH&S management system.” (ISO, 2015). While a number of large organizations have the sufficient time and resources to devote in this area, it leaves a bit to be desired by the organizations that could benefit from the clarity of defining these aspects.
Current and potential customers
With respect to customers, it is important for organizations to determine not only the requirements of customers, but also the context and expectations of those customers. It is not simply enough for organizations to provide “one size fits all” products or services. Most current or potential customers will likely want to be able to customize the product or service to fit the needs of the organization.
Also worth mentioning here are stakeholders, which can be either internal or external to the organization. The stakeholders should be considered in any organizational context conversation, as they are usually only separated from your customers by one or two degrees. Consideration and input from stakeholders during the design / development phase prior to implementation allows firms to identify previously undiscovered (or unstated!) requirements.
Current and potential technologies
Technology is the most impactful component of the production function, and has the ability to offset the lack of capital investment, and more importantly increase the efficiency of the organizational workforce. The assessment and evaluation of organizational technology options allows powerful insights into current and potential future state contexts.
Current technologies exist to help organization leverage, integrate, and automate management system tasks and responsibilities. Firms can leverage the technology to reduce the administrative burden of system maintenance. Management system software provides a platform for organizational integration of multiple management systems (think 9001, 14001, 45001, etc.) Automation of tasks and responsibilities ensure that identified parties are accountable and responsible for results.
Current and potential competitors
Another aspect of the organizational context in which the organization operates, is the external business environment. The external business environment dictates business investments, configuration of the organization’s systems and processes, and how the organization strategically places itself for competition within, and outside of the industry.
An important note of clarification here: the inclusion of competition becomes important within the framework of developing context for the organization. As with all business initiatives, your safety management system should be aligned with the strategic (think SWOT) and tactical priorities of your organization. Continuous improvement provides its own competitive advantage.
Existing services or systems
The context of the organization is also influenced by the products or services that the organization provides. It goes without saying that the context of an organization who manufactures paper clips, for example, would be profoundly different than an organization that provides management consultancy services to small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Organizational structure, design, and development are also part of the organizational context. Roles and responsibilities, leadership and commitment, and design and workflow are important components. These (should) have an influence on the core management system framework, and with any specific control programs or procedures that require data from, or provide information to, the management system.
In organizations where some systems already exist (e.g. corrective action tracking, balanced scorecards) there may be some opportunity to leverage those systems with the implementation of the 45001 framework.
The context of the management system require the evaluation and of existing, new, and potential interfaces. These interfaces can come in the form of internal or external communication processes, the design and development of new services or products, and configuration management (management of change).
As discussed previously, leveraging technology can be useful, and the safety management system must be able to support business objectives. By considering the interfaces required in determining the context of the organization, firms can increase the speed and accuracy of information as it is transferred. A system of automated inputs / outputs ensures the “cleanliness” of data, but in organizations where data is inputted manually, there may be issues with what’s considered risk, how it is categorized, etc.
Legal, regulatory, cultural systems and constraints
The regulatory environment drives safety through the initial levels of safety culture improvement, and acts as a constraint for world-class safety management systems. Tracking the legal requirements creates a framework for organizational context, and depending on the regulatory agencies that the organization has exposure to, can have variable effects on the firm.
This is probably one of the most impactful aspects with respect to the safety management system. Regulations from governments, accrediting organizations, industry/trade associations, and the incorporation of best practices have increased geometrically over the past decade. Compliance with requirements is one of the major challenges of any safety management system, especially for multinational organizations.
Cultural considerations, norms and activities should also be taken into consideration when developing the organization’s context. Power distancing, individualism/collectivism, context, and vertical/horizontal timeframes in which the organization operates locally, or internationally, can subtly affect the design and the implementation of the management system.
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