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Standards for workplace health and well-being: Overview and possible approaches for employers

The launch in March 2018 of the standard ISO 45001 – the first international voluntary standard for workplace health and well-being – was an excellent opportunity for Global-Watch to look at current workplace health and well-being standards and to encourage employers to think about using them.

Given the rigorous processes associated with the development of standards and certification, this document examines only standards linked to workplace health and well-being from standardization bodies


First, what is a standard and how are they developed? A standard is a voluntary reference document that is approved by a recognized standardization body, such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) if the standard is international, or, for example, the Association française de normalisation (AFNOR) or the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (Québec/Canada) if consensus on the standard is at the national level. A standard defines the requirements and characteristics that apply to activities, products, processes or services. It is the result of reflection by a standards committee that is representative of stakeholders from a market or sector.

The development process is led by the recognized standardization body based on international standards for developing ISO standards. In other words, a standard is a voluntary reference framework that is developed based on the reflections of stakeholders, using a rigorous process, by a recognized organization, rooted in consensus, evidence and best practices, relevant to the market with the goal of establishing knowledge on a given subject and disseminating it. It offers organizations a common reference baseline, which is needed to accelerate and facilitate the implementation of new practices. The standard is by definition voluntary unless it is made mandatory owing to a legal or contractual requirement. Only 1% of standards are mandatory. There are no mandatory standards for workplace health and well-being.

Process for developing a standard Through its members, the ISO brings together experts representing different interests and points of view who pool their knowledge to develop international voluntary standards. They support innovation and bring solutions to global issues in nearly their entire sector. The same type of consensus process is used by national standards organizations to set standards in their respective countries.


Certification is written assurance given by a recognized, independent third party that a standard’s requirements are respected. If the standard and the certification are very closely connected, not all standards developed by standardization bodies are designed for the purposes of certification. You must refer to the standard to know if it lends itself to certification. When certification is possible, it is never a requirement of the standard. It is basically a voluntary process arising from each organization’s decision about whether to show officially that it meets the criteria of a standard. Note, however, that just like for the standard, in certain sectors, certification can be mandatory due to a legal or contractual requirement.


Standard ISO 45001 – Occupational health and safety management systems – Requirements with guidance for use – provides an international framework to have safe and healthy workplaces (especially through enhancing safety and reducing risks in the workplace) and improve workers’ health and safety. Such an occupational health and safety (OHS) system allows organizations to meet their workplace health and safety responsibilities and to improve in a proactive and ongoing way their OHS performance. Standard ISO 45001 was designed to be integrated with an organization’s existing management processes. It uses the same framework/structure as other ISO management system standards, such as ISO 9001 (Quality Management Systems) and ISO 14001 (Environmental Management Systems). The primary reference used to develop it was the standard OHSAS 18001, the ILO-OSH 2001 guidelines from the International Labour Organization (ILO). It also complies with the ILO’s international labour standards and conventions

What about OHSAS 18001?

It was agreed that a 3-year transition period would allow organizations to migrate gradually to standard ISO 45001.

In brief

ISO 45001, launched in March 2017, is an international standard. You can find the standard and obtain interesting information at and at :


While ISO 45001 emphasizes from the outset companies’ responsibility to promote and maintain their employees’ physical and mental health, it focuses more on workers’ health and safety. The following 3 standards can therefore be very useful for targeting concrete actions to take in terms of prevention and workplace well-being.

There are 3 standards that specifically address prevention and the promotion of health and well-being in the workplace, whether generally or by focusing on one element of workplace health. These are different from other occupational health standards that approach employee health more from the point of view of safety and the risk of injury. They are therefore valuable references for all organizations – no matter what country they are in or where they are located – that want to take concrete action on workplace health and well-being for their employees.


A few clarifications about the standards.

It is important to specify that standards related to workplace health and well-being:

  • Are designed to be adaptable to the nature and contexts of organizations and their employees. They can therefore be used by all organizations, whatever their size, sector or nature of their activities.
  • Take an approach that ensures efficiency and ongoing improvement of processes in place to respond to an organization’s constantly evolving context.
  • Are inspired by a similar approach. See the sidebar.

From inspiration to implementing a standard

An organization that is concerned about workplace health and well-being of its employees can:

  1. Download the standards – many are available free of charge in English and French ( – and get familiar with them. The summary information on the standards found on the previous page can direct you toward the standard that may be the most relevant for your organization.
  2. Start to reflect on and analyze the workplace health and well-being benefits you are seeking based on needs, challenges and constraints that are specific to your organization.
  3. Analyze the gaps between the practices that are already in place in your organization and those recommended by the standard(s) in order to estimate the efforts required to implement a standard. You can then decide to begin by drawing on certain practices proposed in one or more standards and eventually do a full implementation of a standard.


Once a standard has been implemented in an organization, certification allows the organization to confirm that it has properly understood and applied practices outlined in the standard. The approach consists of an audit of the organization’s documentation, interviews with workers and various bodies within the organization, as well as observation of the work environment by the certification organization. Certification is a good way to:

  • demonstrate the organization’s and its management’s commitment to workplace health and well-being;
  • consolidate and strengthen the human and social values within the organizational culture;
  • mobilize its workers;
  • be recognized by job seekers and its sector;
  • promote its commitment to workplace health and well-being by using the certification logo in its information and promotion tools.


Included in the new standard ISO 45001 is an illustration of the proposed occupational health and safety management system approach. With this system, you plan, implement, evaluate and improve occupational health and safety activities based on the organization’s context and the desired results, with engagement by management and the participation of workers. Each of these standards is inspired by a framework.

Maintaining certification for a 3-year cycle also allows the organization to:

  • ensure ongoing improvements to practices that have been implemented;
  • reassure management about compliance and the effectiveness of good
  • practices that have been implemented;
  • give staff confidence about management’s willingness to ensure the sustainability of practices that are in place.


This document is just an overview of the topic of workplace health and well-being standards. Want to know more about the lessons learned about the 3 standards on workplace health and well-being, the main tools and resources available, certified companies and more? See our dossier on the standards.

Global-Watch Supplement

The publication in March 2018 of standard ISO 45001 – the first international voluntary standard on workplace health and safety – was an ideal opportunity for Global-Watch to explore the various standards related to workplace health and well-being emerging from standardization bodies: the international standard ISO 45001 and the standards Healthy Enterprise, Conciliation travail-famille (Work-life balance) and Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace from Canada. Within this context, Global-Watch produced, among other products for its affiliates, the following tools:

Drawing on the standards for a solid framework for workplace health and well-being

  1. For Global-Watch, all organizations that are concerned about the health and well-being of their employees and are considering implementing policies, processes or activities in this area would benefit from learning about and drawing on workplace health and well-being standards – even if they are not yet considering formally implementing a standard or obtaining certification. A standard can also help an organization compare its practices with those recommended in the standard and adjust its strategies as a result. Since the rigorous process of developing standards is built on consensus by experts who represent different interests and points of view, evidence and best practices, drawing on these standards allows organizations to put in place winning conditions for workplace health and well-being. The standards fall perfectly within the intervention framework proposed by Global-Watch. Several workplace health and well-being standards are offered free of charge in English and French on the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ).  

With the standards, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Several tools and training opportunities are already available.

To assist its affiliates, Global-Watch has compiled the main tools available for organizations that want to implement a standard, or even simply draw on the standards.


Standard: Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace
The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace offers a framework for the creation and ongoing improvement of a psychologically healthy and safe workplace. The Mental Health Commission of Canada, creator of the standard, offers employers a number of tools in English and French, several of which are free of charge:


Standard: Healthy Enterprise

In Québec, the Groupe Entreprise en santé offers employers (in French):

The BNQ also makes available to employers, in English and French:

  • The explanatory document for facilitating the rollout of the standard, including the standard itself
  • A list of certified companies
  • Various documents and related information.

In France, AFNOR offers the same content, but adapted for the French context (in French):

  • Devenir Chef de projet QVT (Become a health and well-being project manager): Certification training
  • Devenir consultant évaluateur certifié (Become a certified examiner consultant)
  • One-day seminar: Qualité de vie au travail (QVT) : réussir le déploiement de sa démarche (Workplace health and well-being: A successful rollout)


Standard: Conciliation travail-famille (Work-life balance)

The BNQ makes available to employers various documents on the standard and certification, along with the list of certified companies (in French).

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