Do Safety Management System Standards Indicate Safer Operations? Evidence from the OHSAS 18001 Occupational Health and Safety Standard

47 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2021 Last revised: 18 Oct 2023

See all articles by Kala Viswanathan

Kala Viswanathan

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Matthew S. Johnson

Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy

Michael W. Toffel

Harvard Business School

Date Written: October 2, 2023

Abstract

Problem definition: Given the enormous disruptions and costs of occupational injuries, companies and buyers are increasingly looking to voluntary occupational health and safety standards to improve worker safety. Yet because these standards only require implementing certain processes and procedures, it is largely unknown whether certification actually conveys superior safety performance. We examine this relationship in the context of the OHSAS 18001 Occupational Health and Safety Management system standard. Methodology/results: We analyze proprietary certification data over 1995 to 2016 from some of the world’s largest certification bodies and establishment-level injury data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and find that U.S. establishments certified to OHSAS 18001 tend to be safer workplaces. OHSAS 18001 attracts establishments with fewer injury and illness cases than comparable establishments (a selection effect). Using propensity score matching and a difference-in-differences approach, we estimate that OHSAS 18001 certification reduces the total number of illness and injury cases by 20 percent and illness and injury cases associated with job transfers or restrictions by 24 percent. Managerial implications: Our results indicate that becoming certified to a safety management standard can lead to meaningful improvements in workplace safety, and that OHSAS 18001 certification is a credible indicator of superior average safety performance, an important insight for buyers and suppliers. Given that OHSAS 18001 is the basis for the newer ISO 45001 standard that has quickly become the world’s third-most popular management system standard, this study provides promising evidence that ISO 45001 will also prove effective in distinguishing safer workplaces.

Keywords: standards, occupational health and safety, program evaluation, quality, safety performance, injuries, OHSAS 18001, ISO 45001

Suggested Citation

Viswanathan, Kala and Johnson, Matthew and Toffel, Michael W., Do Safety Management System Standards Indicate Safer Operations? Evidence from the OHSAS 18001 Occupational Health and Safety Standard (October 2, 2023). Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 22-042, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3988416 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3988416

Kala Viswanathan

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Matthew Johnson

Duke University - Sanford School of Public Policy ( email )

201 Science Drive
Box 90312
Durham, NC 27708-0239
United States

Michael W. Toffel (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States
617.384.8043 (Phone)

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