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October 10, 2016

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BS ISO 27500

BS ISO 27500: the Human-centred organisation

Tom Stewart, a past President of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors and Deputy Chair of the Council for Work and Health, talks about the importance of workplace well-being and the introduction of BS ISO 27500, a new ISO Standard to enable organisations to become more ‘human-centred’.

What is BS ISO 27500?

The new Standard was introduced in March 2016 by the British Standards Institute (BSI) and its title is: BS ISO 27500 The Human-centred Organisation – Rationale and General Principles.  An earlier ergonomics and human factors standard (first published in 1999) on taking a human-centred approach to design and development has resulted in systems and products that are more usable.  The new Standard applies similar principles to the whole organisation.  It is aimed at executive Board members and explains the value and beliefs that make an organisation human-centred, the business and operational benefits that this may bring and the policies they need to put in place to achieve this.

What was the reason for developing BS ISO 27500 and what had gone before?

Even in the early days of computer technology and equipment, we recognised the need for guidance in order to enable safe, comfortable and productive use of this emerging technology.  As we all know, the pace of technological development in recent years has been rapid and has, in fact, overtaken the standards development process.  Having seen the business benefits of making ergonomics and human centred design mainstream, we recognised the need for a new Standard aimed at making the whole of an organisation human-centred.

Why is a human centred approach so important?

In today’s society human-centred design is now embedded into everything we use, and everywhere we go – from medical devices to crowd control – without many people even noticing. So, what does it actually mean? Well, to take a human-centred approach to design is to follow a four step approach.  First, clearly identify and understand the target users.  Second, use ergonomics and human factors best practice to create an initial design.  Then test that design with people who represent the target users.  Use feedback from the testing to improve the design and repeat the cycle until the final design meets the requirements.  When applied to the whole organisation, the key is to understand what matters to people and creating the processes and structures which optimise wellbeing and performance. This approach is particularly effective when it comes to managing health, safety and well being.

Increasingly, organisations all around the world are recognising the benefits of taking a human-centred approach to management in adding real value and enhancing overall performance.

What are the key elements of BS ISO 27500?

The Standard itself describes the values and beliefs that make an organisation human-centred.  It incorporates a wealth of ergonomics and human factors knowledge and techniques to set criteria that will help businesses capitalise on the growing human-centred trend.  It is based on seven core principles:


Principle One: Focus on uniqueness

The first principle encourages businesses to capitalise on the individual differences employees bring rather than seeing them as a problem. By acknowledging that employees differ in their abilities and needs, employers can channel this information and benefit from it.


Principle Two: Usability and accessibility

The second principle is to make usability and accessibility strategic business objectives. Using international standards and best practices, the human-centred organisation ensures that products, systems and services are accessible and importantly usable by both employees and customers.


Principle Three: Adopt a total systems approach

This principle ensures that the organisation recognises that its people are part of a wider system made up of many elements. It follows a socio-technical approach to both the design and implementation of new systems.


Principle Four: Prioritise well-being

This pro-active principle has been set to ensure health, safety, and well-being are business priorities, enabling the organisation to protect individuals from health, safety and well-being risks.


Principle Five: Value employees

Valuing employees and creating a meaningful workplace are important elements of the Standard. The criteria are targeted at encouraging a shared organisational ‘vision’ and promoting staff recognition.


Principle Six: Be Open and trustworthy

This principle has been developed to encourage open and effective communication – including potentially difficult decisions – to ensure timely and sympathetic notifications are shared.


Principle Seven: Be responsible

The final principle encourages organisations to act in responsible ways; behaving ethically and instilling pride and confidence in its employees, customers and community.

What are the key benefits to an organisation taking this human-centred approach?

Human well-being is now widely recognised as an important economic measure to complement traditional measures of business output and, therefore, success.  At the heart of every company is the people it employs and business owners must take their social responsibility seriously.  There are clear benefits to businesses of all shapes and sizes to adopting BS ISO 27500.  The Standard sets out to improve workforce effectiveness by unifying the organisation towards a common goal. This approach will give workers greater confidence and trust in the organisation they are employed by and are likely to feel more motivated in the job they do – all of which helps to reduce staff turnover and build a stronger workforce.

What is the likely impact on the responsibility of health and safety professionals?

One of the core principles of the Standard is to ensure health, safety and well-being are business priorities.  This should be a proactive approach that goes beyond the minimum required by legislation, ensuring that the organisation takes the necessary steps to protect individuals from health, safety and well-being risks.  Health and Safety professionals, who are often used to working across boundaries, could be best placed to encourage co-operative action and to take the lead.

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