About the Study
In 2018, the Chief Evaluation Office (CEO) partnered with The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and funded contractor Eastern Research Group, Inc (ERG) to conduct a study focused on the use of consensus standards for occupational safety and health management systems (Employer Adoption of Voluntary Health and Safety Standards). This systematic review aims to provide a clear understanding of the various voluntary, consensus-based Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (OHSMS) standards, how they are developed and by whom, and the similarities and differences across them. The report also describes what kinds of employers choose to adopt the standards and become certified to them, and how many have done so.
This Department of Labor-funded study was a result of a result of the Department’s research priorities. It contributes to the labor evidence-base to inform Worker Protection, Labor Standards, and Workplace-Related Benefits programs and policies and addresses Departmental strategic goals and priorities.
- Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems: Processes for Development of National and International Voluntary Consensus Standards (Final Report, July 2023)
- Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems: System Certification and Accreditation (Knowledge Development Report, December 2021)
- How do the various organizations that develop and promote voluntary consensus standards administer their accreditation systems? What are the strengths and weaknesses in their respective accreditation processes?
- What are the perceived benefits and costs associated with obtaining accreditation for safety and health management standard systems?
- What are the similarities and differences in safety and health management practices between OSHA standards used in enforcement and the most common systems that develop voluntary consensus standards? Can the nature and magnitude of the gaps and overlap between OSHA standards and voluntary consensus standards suggest potential advantages or concerns with respect to compliance?
- Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (OHSMS) standards share core concepts or common components, including:
- Emphasis on management leadership
- Robust worker involvement and participation
- Risk assessment and identification
- Hazard and risk control
- The need for competence at all levels of the organization
- Evaluation of the system to identify its achievements and deficiencies
- Continual improvement
The standards across different systems are consistent in their overall purpose of improving organizations’ occupational health and safety performance. The standards differ significantly, however, in the level of detail in which these core concepts are implemented.
- OHSMS standards development represents a consensus process based on the experience, expertise, and perspective of a large group of well qualified professionals. The resulting standards are based on the collective experience and expertise of the members of the committee. While the standards are often informed by available evidence and scientific data the final decisions on the content are made during a negotiation among the committee members.
- The development process for OHSMS consensus standards is highly structured. Both the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and International Standards Organization (ISO) have elaborate protocols and procedures that govern standards development and ensure consensus. These procedures are designed to ensure that standards represent the consensus of parties, a balance of interests is maintained, and that no group dominates decision-making.
- Continual improvement in occupational health and safety is a fundamental value. The OHSMS standards are founded on the concept of continual improvement. Similarly, the standards development process is designed for continual improvement of the standards themselves. Over time, the standards are updated to reflect current evidence of their effectiveness and to integrate and recognize new concepts and techniques in occupational safety and health.
- Voluntary consensus standards signal to stakeholders that the adopting organizations conform to a set of recognized best practices for OHSMS, and exist at the national and international levels.
- Employers adopting OHSMS have the option to certify their conformance to the management system standards, by contracting with a certification body (sometimes called an auditor).
- Certification bodies follow a rigorous set of procedures when conducting their assessments. Certification audits involve reviews of OHSMS documentation, interviews with management and workers, and physical inspections of the workplace. The intensity of the audit (number of auditor days) is scaled to the complexity of the workplace and number of employees. To maintain certification, organizations must undergo annual surveillance audits and a full recertification audit takes place every three years. Certifications may be suspended or withdrawn if the organization fails to maintain sound OHS risk management practices.
- Accreditation of certification bodies helps ensure that assessors are competent, independent, and free of conflicts of interest. Accreditation bodies operate under principles established through their participation in the International Accreditation Forum. In the U.S., the two main accreditation bodies for OHSMS are the ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB) and the International Accreditation Service (IAS).
Eastern Research Group. (2023). Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems: Processes for Development of National and International Voluntary Consensus Standards. Chief Evaluation Office, U.S. Department of Labor.
Eastern Research Group. (2021). Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems: System Certification and Accreditation. Chief Evaluation Office, U.S. Department of Labor.
The Department of Labor’s (DOL) Chief Evaluation Office (CEO) sponsors independent evaluations and research, primarily conducted by external, third-party contractors in accordance with the Department of Labor Evaluation Policy. CEO’s research development process includes extensive technical review at the design, data collection and analysis stage, including: external contractor review and OMB review and approval of data collection methods and instruments per the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), Institutional Review Board (IRB) review to ensure studies adhere to the highest ethical standards, review by academic peers (e.g., Technical Working Groups), and inputs from relevant DOL agency and program officials and CEO technical staff. Final reports undergo an additional independent expert technical review and a review for Section 508 compliance prior to publication. The resulting reports represent findings from this independent research and do not represent DOL positions or policies.