What is an integrated management system?

We often hear the term ‘integrated management system’, or we hear people say they have an integrated management system at their workplace, but then go on to talk about JSA’s Job Safety Analysis, EMP’s environmental management plans, or ITP’s inspection and test plans.

Well, if you are using those terms, you might need to question whether you actually have a system that is fully integrated. In this article, we talk about what an Integrated Management System is, and demonstrate how your integrated systems can reduce duplication and make your systems more efficient and effective.

So what is an integrated management system (IMS)? An IMS consolidates all the business processes into one single system of management, resulting in a management system that is leaner, more effective, more efficient and easier to follow than having a number of separate systems. An IMS better meets the needs of the business and its management and operations by streamlining similar processes to avoid duplication, with a focus on providing good business outcomes.

Some argue that because there are different standards (ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 55001 etc, each with its own set of requirements), businesses should have separate management systems to meet those differing requirements. Another argument is that quality people look after the quality system, safety people look after the safety management system, and environmental people look after the environmental system; therefore it is better if the systems are separate. In both instances, the rationale is wrong because when people do work activities, they have to consider all requirements of the work together – they don’t split the activity into its separate disciplines.

To give a very simple example: when making a cup of tea, we consider the temperature of the water (quality), the risk that it could scald us (safety), the fact that it is safe to drink (health), the disposal of the tea bag (environment), and even the maintenance of the kettle (asset management).

To help us with this, ISO (International Organization for Standardization), which is the primary producer of standards, has developed a mandatory document called the High Level Structure (HLS).

SL.9     High level structure, identical core text and common terms and core definitions for use in Management Systems Standards

This HLS requires all management system standards to adopt a common format with the aim of making things simpler for everyone concerned.

…and within this HLS, there is a fantastic requirement that is now mandatory for all management systems. It states:

Top management shall demonstrate leadership and commitment with respect to the XXX management system system by:

  • Ensuring the integration of the XXX management system requirements into the organisation’s business processes

It is a bit of a shame that such an obvious statement has to be made, but at least it is clear from this that most of the management systems already in existence have been developed separate to, and as an add on, rather than as part of the actual business. How do we know this? Because if management systems were integrated correctly, there would not have been a need to include this requirement.

Therefore, whatever discipline you are trying to comply with, whether it be Quality ISO 9001, Environment ISO 14001, Information security ISO 27001, Asset management ISO 55001 or any other come to that, how you meet the requirements should be included within your business processes… and your business processes are actually how the business works and operates.

The previous versions of standards wanted this too, but they just weren’t as explicit. Before, it was a nice to have; now it is actually a requirement.

Now a JSA, an EMP or an ITP are useful tools in themselves, but they are discipline specific; therefore they focus only on one aspect of a job, activity or task. Once these tools have been used, then the information in them should be transferred to the actual business process.

Let’s take the simple instance of digging a hole, and there are a few things we need to think about…

  1. Where does the hole need to be, what size is it and how deep?
  2. What are we going to do with the earth that has come out of the hole?
  3. How are we going to dig the hole so we don’t hurt ourselves?

In many organisations, this would produce three separate documents:

  1. an ITP detailing who has to inspect and sign off that the hole is in the right place and is of the correct size
  2. an EMP that talks about how to dispose of the soil, the records you need to complete, and what to do in the event of a spill or other form of environmental event
  3. a JSA which identifies the OHS risks and associated controls to prevent injury to a worker or to someone else.

So if your business expects workers to use and understand three different types of documents before they undertake a task, you might like to ask yourself: “Is this really the best that we can do?”

Hopefully you can see where we are heading here – and it doesn’t matter whether you are digging a hole in the ground, running a restaurant, or operating a childcare centre, your workers need one set of instructions to follow which should simply and clearly state what has to be done.

Whilst we are on this topic of “one set of instructions to follow”, consider these examples where the last thing you would want is to have people referring to multiple instructions to find out what to do:

  • Emergency workers attending a vehicle accident
  • A chef cooking a meal
  • Truck drivers driving heavy goods vehicles
  • A pilot flying a plane
  • Doctors performing surgery

…and on that final point, check out how many different management systems you have in your organisation and see how well these disciplines actually align with your business processes.


To learn more about integrated management systems, we offer a range of courses including an Integrated Management Systems Lead Auditor course.

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One Comment

Kelly Frame

Great article, very well written and easy to understand. I really liked the example that you have used in regards to the making a cup of tea. We have just had JLB from South Australia to implement our new Integrated Management System. We have been using this system in our head office in Canberra. So far so good, the system is easy to use and we look forward to seeing how it shows up with out next audit in March. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts in this article.

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