Comparing COR® 2020 and ISO 45001:2018

Looking at two standards for evaluating occupational health and safety management systems.

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There are many ways to improve health and safety at a workplace. Arguably the most effective is for a company to develop and maintain an occupational health and safety management system (OHSMS), based on recognized standards, which addresses hazards and controls using clear, consistent methods. Under the Supporting Ontario’s Safe Employers program (SOSE), the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training, and Skills Development officially recognizes two standards for building and evaluating an OHSMS: COR® 2020 and ISO 45001:2018.

Both standards are proven and effective. However, one may be more suitable than the other, depending on factors such as a business’s size, industry, and operational context. IHSA is the regulatory body for COR® in Ontario, but also grants equivalency to Ontario-based firms that have an International Accreditation Forum-accredited ISO 45001:2018 certification covering their entire scope of operations.

The IHSA Safety Podcast asked two accredited OHSMS auditors to compare the standards and explain the difference between accredited and unaccredited ISO certifications.

Why would an Ontario employer choose to implement COR® 2020 over ISO 45001:2018?

A lot of COR® 2020 is focused on covering legislative requirements. It’s structured to assist firms in the formal process of building an OHSMS and ensuring compliance. I really like its prescriptive nature. If you don’t have a lot of resources, like if you’re a smaller firm or are newer to occupational health and safety management systems, COR® is a more realistic option to ensure you’re meeting key legislative requirements in Ontario and help you get to certification.

And COR® is definitely better recognized across Canada. Especially in the western provinces and Ontario, it’s the known standard.

Cameron Mitchell is Vice President, Business Development at AudEng International Ltd. and an accredited ISO 45001:2018 and COR® 2020 auditor.

COR® started as a standard for the construction industry, but is it applicable to other industries?

CM: Definitely. In fact, we’ve audited other industries. The COR® 2020 tool has become more agnostic. If you’re a manufacturing firm or a utilities firm—somebody who’s not specifically in construction—it’s still applicable.

Why might an employer choose ISO 45001:2018 instead of COR® 2020?

One advantage of ISO 45001:2018 is that it’s internationally recognized. While almost every province has a COR® program, that certification holds no value outside of Canada. With ISO 45001, a business can be recognized as having a functional OHSMS in the international community.

The ISO 45001 standard is also quite broad. There are requirements within the standard, but how you achieve conformity is up to you. It’s transferable from any industry and conducive to companies of any size, from smaller businesses to multinational firms. And if your organization does have multiple locations, it can be applied uniformly across each of them. You also get to determine the scope of your ISO 45001:2018 management system: you pick the portions of your organization that you want to include. Finally, you determine how you want to audit your internal OHSMS. If you want to focus on a certain section, area, or region within your organization, it offers that flexibility.

Carson Powell is President of AudEng International Ltd. and an accredited ISO 45001:2018 and COR® 2020 auditor.

With flexibility comes the need to make decisions about what’s right for your organization— and in some cases, what’s required. By pursuing ISO 45001:2018, would you need to have more people on staff with a clear understanding of management systems and standards?

CP: Within your organization, you need to have a person or people, or a solid consultant, with an understanding of the requirements of ISO 45001:2018. You need high-level understanding of both occupational health and safety overall and management systems specifically, in order to understand the ISO standard and how to apply it.

If a company already uses ISO 9000 to audit its quality management system and ISO 14000 to audit its environmental system, would it make sense to also use ISO 45001:2018 to audit its OHSMS?

CP: For sure. They feed into each other. The framework and foundation of ISO 9000 and ISO 14000 are very similar to ISO 45001. You get the opportunity to have an integrated system where you benefit from of all three standards.

What about the auditing process? How does an accredited ISO audit differ from one that is unaccredited?

CP: Anyone can perform an unaccredited audit. There are no parameters. There’s no overarching governing body to verify that processes were followed. Somebody evaluates your management system and then provides you with a report with no verification on the back end.

In contrast, an accredited audit is delivered by a certification body that’s governed by an overarching accreditation body—for example, the Standards Council of Canada or ANSI National Accreditation Board, which are both signatories to the International Accreditation Forum. That means the certifying body gets audited by the accreditation body. So then, when your OHSMS is audited, your company, and any companies you work with, can be confident that your certification meets a global standard. There are lots of checks and balances, like ensuring that an auditor has experience in the industry they’ve been assigned to audit, and that enough time has been scheduled for the audit to properly assess a company’s operations and active worksites.

It’s very important, especially in Canada, to verify that both the auditor and the certifying body of your OHSMS are accredited.

So if the purpose of OHSMS standards is to ensure consistency, then an employer should be certain that the standard they use is accredited?

CP: The nice thing about COR® auditors in Ontario is they’ve been vetted, they’ve gone through all the checks and balances and verifications by IHSA. They’re looking specifically at Ontario regulations and have to know them well. Whereas an auditor of ISO 45001 may not have that jurisdictional expertise: they know where to find the Ontario legislation, but might not have experience with how it’s actually applied. So that’s probably another benefit of using COR® 2020 through IHSA in Ontario.

Now hear this

This article was adapted from episode 65 of the IHSA Safety Podcast. Listen to the full episode, then learn more about building your occupational health and safety management system with COR®.