For those of us who work with management system standards Annex SL is probably the single most influential document to cross our paths.   This document sets out a single structure for ALL the management system standards and in doing so has transformed not only the standards but the way in which we approach them.   The changes to ISO9001 and ISO14001 which were introduced in 2015 really brought the impact of Annex SL into sharp focus and now we’ve seen more standards – including 27001, 50001 and now 45001 being issued to follow the 10 clause format mandated by Annex SL.

The structure is designed to follow the PDCA cycle, with organisations now tasked with really PLANNING their management systems, DOING their operational processes in line with the processes they deem necessary and then CHECKING how effective and efficient those processes have been in achieving their end goal, and ACTING to make necessary changes. 

Right at the ‘front end’ organisations are now asked to consider the ‘context’ within which they operate, and to identify the needs and expectations of their interested parties.  They are also asked to consider risk and opportunity – and these issues need to be reviewed on an ongoing basis – for example at the current time some businesses are looking very closely at the risks and opportunities which BREXIT might present to them.   These activities will help inform the process of setting tangible achievable objectives for the management system.  No longer the woolly ‘delight the customer’ – the standards want businesses to really think about what they want to achieve and how they will do so.

The days of the SQE Manager running the whole system ‘it’s down to Fred if it’s quality, safety or environment’ have gone.  The term ‘management’ has been replaced by Leadership with increasing responsibility placed on those who direct and run the organisation.  Furthermore there’s a requirement for those leaders to fully integrate the management system into their wider processes and to provide the resources required to run things.   Fred is still there but by now he should be feeling part of an integrated team, supported by the leadership of the business.

Operationally the organisation is now asked to consider what processes and procedures need to be controlled through documented procedures.  YOUR choice, based on risk and opportunity and the needs of relevant interested parties.  If a process is running well and has been in place for a number of years and is not generating any issues you might choose not to document the procedures involved.  A process which starts to highlight deficiencies through the NCR system, or which starts to generate customer complaints might on the other hand benefit from some documentation being put in place.

Clause 9 of the standard is all about performance evaluation and includes management review and audit within it’s scope.  It also sets out a requirement for the organisation to decide what it wants to monitor and measure and to think about how they will analyse data and use it to improve their processes.  This is a chance for organisations to think about what they currently monitor and/or measure and to ask themselves what use they make of the data generated.  It may be that the data capture is focusing on issues which are long gone – and that a refocus could help the business identify new areas to review.   The links are then clearly built to clause 10, which asks the organisation to take the knowledge they’ve gained through performance evaluation and drive forward business improvements, which almost certainly leads us back to all that contextual review, and the setting of real business objectives.

Make no bones about it, Annex SL moves management system standards from the previous linear approach to a very clear cycle – is your business really using the management standards and working it’s way through the PDCA process?