Quality-, Environment-, Health & Safety Standards

Historic development of Standards

In the 1960’s and ’70 quality standards were first developed as military standards, which ultimately led to the widely adopted quality standard published by the International Standardization Organization (ISO) in 1987 with ISO9000:1987 as its first version (The British Assessment Bureau 2015). In the early 2000’s, the environmental standard ISO 14001 started to gain the interest form many thousands of businesses (ISO 2013), followed by standards for Health & Safety with OHSAS 18001 reaching over 90.000 certified companies in 2011 (T.R. Fisher 2015). The standards for Quality, Environment and Health & Safety are Management System Standards (MSS). Given the ongoing growth of MSS, more and more business owners understand the importance of Quality, Health, Safety and Environmental (QHSE) aspects in the establishment of sustainable business (figure 1) and many clients and local governments require the formalization of the integration of MSS in the organization with the certification of the management systems (interviews with QHSE-managers).

Development of Quality, Environment and Health & Safety Certifications
Figure 1: J.W.J. Houdijk, 2015, Development of Quality, Environment and Health & Safety Certifications, Compiled data from OHSAS Project Group, Standards and Certificates Survey 2011 and ISO – Survey 2013.

Trends in Management System Standards

The growing number of certificates is a reflection of the tendency that businesses tend to change from being profit driven to a more sustainable approach. The growing importance of environment and health in sustainable businesses can be explained because organizations are under increasing pressure from both outside and within to apply the principles of sustainable development to their operations (Rocha et al. 2007).

There is a trend to implement Integrated Management Systems (IMS) (Krsmanovic et al. 2014). An IMS exist when two or more MS are linked in such a way that the independence of one or both of the systems is lost (Douglas & Glen 2000).

The introduction of the High Level Structure (also referred to as common framework or Annex SL) for ISO standards, first applied in 2012, ensures compatibility between MSS’s (IRCA 2014). The latest versions of ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 that were released in September 2015 are based on this HLS.

Working with Management Systems

Management systems were first applied on the work floor in the form of printed operating manuals containing Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) in combination with checklists and forms. The digital revolution made it possible to make these manuals accessible in the organizations intranet. Many companies use a static manual (a single document) on the company server as their IMS. Larger organizations with an own IT-department often have developed a custom made IMS (interviews with QHSE-managers). The HLS facilitates the development of dynamic IMS software that makes sustainability certification more accessible for small and medium size organizations.

The IMS is validated with a combined audit, in order to safe costs. Inadequate audit methodologies (Krsmanovic et al. 2014) and lack of specialized auditors (Simon et al. 2012) have been mentioned as a problem in IMS implementation. However, this autumn, auditor training on IMS is being offered by national standardization institutions such as INTECO for Costa Rica or NEN for the Netherlands.

Experiences with Integrated Management Systems

A study from Spain shows that benefits from implementing an IMS that are being experienced are related with internal cohesion benefits, better use of systems, strategic benefits and system performance benefits (Simon et al. 2012). Benefits of IMS can be categorized as operational, financial and marketing benefits. In the decision making process to implement IMS regulatory requirements can be a driver too (Asif et al. 2008).

In developing countries research on experiences with IMS exist in China and India. Avoiding overlapping multiple MSS, and avoiding excessive paperwork and high costs, and financial-, environmental- and social performance improvement are reasons that integration becomes necessary for many organization irrespective of size or sector (Khanna et al. 2010).

A Standard for Sustainability?

The popularity and acceptation of the new (or updated) ISO standards are hard to estimate. The updated standards for Quality- and Environmental Management Systems were recently published and the new Standard for Health and Safety (ISO 45001) is expected in October 2016. It is likely, that these standards ultimately will merge into one standard for sustainability, but before that may happen, other standards may become more widely accepted.

There are a number of national and international standards that certify sustainability; Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, Utz Certified, Organic, trustea, B Corporation, certificates for sustainable construction or tourism and many other local initiatives that provide (self-) certifications. Each with their specific niche or limitations. The big question is which standard will grow to become the authority certificate for sustainability.


Asif, M., Bruijn, E.J. De & Fisscher, O. a M., 2008. Corporate motivation for integrated management system implementation : why do firms engage in integration of management systems: a literature review & research agenda. 16th Annual High Technology Small Firms Conference, HTSF 2008, p.21.
Douglas, A. & Glen, D., 2000. Integrated management systems in small and medium enterprises. Total Quality Management, 11(4-6), pp.686–690.
IRCA, 2014. Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems – BS OHSAS 18001 moving to ISO 45001, London. ISO, 2013. The ISO Survey of Management System Standard Certifications – 2013 Executive summary. Available at: //www.iso.org/iso/iso_survey_executive-summary.pdf?v2013 [Accessed September 8, 2015].
Khanna, H.K., Laroiya, S.C. & Sharma, D.D., 2010. Integrated management systems in Indian manufacturing organizations. TQM Journal, 22(6), pp.670–686.
Krsmanovic, M., Horvat, A. & Zivkovic, N., 2014. Analysis of the experiences in the implementation of an integrated management system. Quality management, New Busine(1492), pp.1505 – 1511.
Rocha, M., Searcy, C. & Karapetrovic, S., 2007. Integrating Sustainable Development into Existing Management Systems. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 18(1-2), pp.83–92.
Simon, A., Karapetrovic, S. & Casadesús, M., 2012. Difficulties and benefits of integrated management systems. Industrial Management & Data Systems, 112(5), pp.828–846.
T.R. Fisher, 2015. The Rise of ISO 45001 A New Global Occupational Health and Safety Management System Standard United States Congressional Briefing Held on March 12 , 2015 Interest Continues to Grow in the Proposed Standard, IL.
The British Assessment Bureau, 2015. ISO 9001 History. , pp.1–2. Available at: //www.british-assessment.co.uk/services/iso-certification/iso-9001-certification/iso-9001-history [Accessed October 3, 2015].

Compliance Software for Sustainable Entreprises

It is getting about time that I share some ongoing developments… I researched the possibilities on compliance software for sustainable enterprises and this is leading to the development of a prototype right now. With this weblog I want to summarize and share the steps I took so far. I am very exited about this and I hope to be able to explain and make you feel why.

Compliance Software

In many organisations compliance software is implemented to enable document control and distribution trough the intranet. I always found these programs hard to work with and not user friendly at all. Other organizations do not use software or an intranet structure and keep a printed manual.

To get certified as an organisation you need to tell what you are going to do, keep track of your efforts and proof that you did it that way. Documentation and forms can help with that. Generally, the Quality Manager, or Quality-, Health-, Safety-, and Environment- (QHSE) manager is assigned to organize this.

The most widely accepted standard is ISO 9001 for quality, followed by ISO 14001 for environmental management systems. In both standards the Deming Cycle (Plan-Do-Check-Act) is very important. In September 2015 these standards were revised. The most important changes are the implementation of the High Level Structure (HLS) and risk based thinking.

High Level Structure

plugin model

At the end of July 2015 I presented a short explanation of the High Level Structure, you can watch the video on youtube with the presentation here. I think I will make another version later on to publish on highlevelstructure.com a domain that to my big surprise was still available, three years after the International Standardization Organization (ISO) introduced the HLS.

To understand the changes in the (environmental) standard, I joined a meeting with INOTEC (Costa Rica National Institute for Technical Standards). People_Planet_ProfitMy report and interpretation you can read in this LinkedIn post.

My main conclusion, or expectation if you like, is that it will become more easy and less costly to implement a management system standard. Integration of Management Systems (MS) and all its benefits (I will not go into that for now) becomes available for small and medium enterprises. This is were I got motivated to do some more research.

Expert opinions

In the past weeks I’ve consulted many certification experts and QHSE-managers to learn what are the main challenges they face when implementing and working with MS. Some prefer to continue working with a static quality handbook, others recognize the benefits of working with a dynamic digital system.

The tendency to merge management systems into one Integrated Management System (IMS) is evident. Some larger organizations have developed their own document management system with in-house IT expertise, or with help from external consultancy. Also, commercial compliance software is available.

Scientific Research

mendeleyIn recent literature the rise of IMS is found as well. To be able to share these studies I created a public group on Mendely (document and reference manager) to share research on IMS. Please feel free to join and share your work or findings. It is great to learn from past experiences with the implementation of IMS, many of the problems from the past will be solved with the harmonization of the standards structure by the HLS.

Integrated Sustainable Management System

A management system that integrates standards representing the sustainability triangle (People, Planet, Profit) is an Integrated Sustainable Management System (ISMS). It could be the basis, or the core system, for any sustainable enterprise management system to help define all relevant aspects for the organizations processes. At this moment, there is no standard for ISMS, so the requirements for such a system should be derived from existing Management System Standards (MSS) and the demand from future users of the system.

Lean Software Development

Based on the contacts with QHSE-managers and backed by Scientific Research on IMS, I started to design an ISMS. The development will be according to the lean software development principles as promoted by The Foundation. An important aspect is involvement of experts in a focus group and work towards an early launch for a select group of test users, to ensure a high quality, user friendly product. Modern cloud technology now opens the possibilities to develop and continuously improve software on the go. Before, software had to be installed from a disk and became available with numbered versions. This much more rigid distribution resulted in bugs that stayed live for a long time until the next version came out.


Early marketing is important towards a successful product launch. That is why I already set-up an info site were you can subscribe to my email list. I choose “Backbone” as the brand name in stead of using the more descriptive but very long “High Level Structure” concept in the name.

The backbone is the bone structure in the human body protecting the nerves that carry all viable information to our brain. The spine is also the basis, or core, of our bone structure. This similarity with an organizations document and information structure is clear isn’t it?


Later on I will make available a list of features that will be implemented from the start, and a planning for future updates and possibilities. At all times I would like to hear suggestions on this, so shout it out or send me an email with your requirements.

Backbone.ms is a process based management system. The navigation is intuitive and engineered to meet the expectations of the specific end-user. Employees, process owners, QHSE-managers or CEO, they all have there own specific information needs.

awsThe information has to be accessible in a secure environment. That is why the lay-out and the system structure (the ‘backbone’) are separated from your documents. Documents are stored at Amazon Web Service (AWS) Simple Storage Service (S3). This is a certified Information Security Management System (ISO/IEC 27001:2013).

Backbone is available as Software as as Service. No large investments are needed, only a monthly fee for the usage will be determined. The latest version will always be available on all your devices, via browser access.

Prototype coming soon

Are you also exited about the possibilities of modern technology to make certification to multiple standards accessible? Send me an email or subscribe at backbone.ms/discover to get an notification when the prototype is ready for review.