“To Him Who Has, More Will Be Given…”– A Realist Review of the OHSAS18001 Standard of OHS Management

  • Christian Uhrenholdt MadsenEmail author
  • Marie Louise Kirkegaard
  • Peter Hasle
  • Johnny Dyreborg
Conference paper
Part of the Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing book series (AISC, volume 821)


The OHSAS18001 standard is now the most widely adopted management systems for occupational health and safety worldwide. The standard is intended to support companies in attaining a higher health and safety standard. However, there is limited knowledge on how this standard in fact is working in practice and thus can improve health and safety at work.

In order to investigate how the OHSAS18001 standard is working in practice, we identified the main mechanisms assumed to be actively involved in the successful implementation and management of the standard, by using a framework inspired by a realist methodology. In line with this methodology, we assessed how the context of the adopting organizations impinges on the identified mechanisms and synthesized the findings into useful knowledge for practitioners and fellow researchers alike.

The starting point for the analytical process is the program theories that we identified in the standard and supplementary materials from key stakeholders. Thus we analyze how key stakeholders and policymakers expect the standard or program theory to work when it is implemented in an organizational setting. The three program theories (PT) we identified are: An ‘operational’ PT, a ‘compliance’ PT, and an ‘institutional’ PT.

Then we compared these ‘assumed’ program theories to how the OHSAS18001 actually worked in real-life settings. We identified four so-called context-mechanism-outcome configurations by reviewing available empirical studies and by extracting knowledge from them. These CMO-configurations are: ‘Integration’, ‘learning’, ‘motivation’ and ‘translation’. This analytical approach means that our paper provides both i -depth understanding of the assumed program theories behind the OHSAS18001standard and understanding of the actual mechanisms of certified management systems in occupational health and safety management in various context presented by the included implementation studies.


OHS OHSAS18001 Realist review 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Materials and ProductionAalborg UniversityCopenhagenDenmark
  2. 2.National Research Center for the Working EnvironmentCopenhagenDenmark

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