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Occupational health and safety management systems (OHSMSs) have developed considerably over the last 20 years. There are now more OHSMSs in place and available than ever before. Yet little is known about the effectiveness of these systems on employee health and safety and on relevant economic outcomes.

This systematic review of the literature was undertaken to assess the research evidence on the effectiveness of OHSMSs. Many countries including Canada are in the process of developing management standards for occupational health and safety, so a better understanding of the impact of these systems is timely.

A systematic literature review uses strict, explicit methods to identify, select and critically appraise relevant studies on a certain topic. This review initially set out to investigate three key issues:

    • What is the relative effectiveness of mandatory and voluntary OHSMSs on employee health and safety and associated economic outcomes?

    • What facilitators and barriers are there to the adoption and the effectiveness of OHSMSs?

    • What is the evidence on the cost-effectiveness of OHSMSs?

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        What are OHSMSs?

A specific challenge was the lack of consensus on the definition of an OHSMS and how it might be distinguished from other occupational health and safety programs. After reviewing the various definitions found in the literature, the review team devised the following definition:

“An OHSMS is the integrated set of organizational elements involved in the continuous cycle of planning, implementation, evaluation, and continual improvement, directed toward the abatement of occupational hazards in the workplace. Such elements include, but are not limited to, organizations’ OHS- relevant policies, goals and objectives, decision-making structures and practices, technical resources, accountability structures and practices, communication practices, hazard identification practices, training practices, hazard controls, quality assurance practices, evaluation practices, and organizational learning practices.”

OHSMSs are generally distinguished from traditional occupational health and safety programs by being more proactive, better internally integrated and for incorporating stronger elements of evaluation and continuous improvement.

Effectiveness of Occupational Health & Safety Management Systems: A Systematic Review


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