Harmonized Structure (HS) succeeds the High Level Structure (HLS)

20 Aug 2021

At Pauwels Consulting, we are experts at implementing management systems (ISO 9001, ISO 14001, ISO 45001) in different companies and organizations. So, when we heard about the successor of the High Level Structure (HLS), the Harmonized Structure (HS), we were enthusiastic. Now our consultants can help you even better. Haven’t you heard of High Level Structure yet, or are you interested in the benefits of Harmonized Structure? Luc Marivoet, one of our QHSE experts, tells us everything there is to know about this new standardized way of drafting ISO standards.

Hi Luc. Please remind us: what is the High Level Structure exactly?

Luc: Remember the time when we used to work with various management systems (ISO 9001, ISO 14001, …) which were different in terms of terminology and structure? Well, that changed in 2012, when a set of core elements was introduced to ensure these management systems would follow the same structure: the High Level Structure. Thanks to this set of 10 universal sections, it is much easier for companies to integrate different management systems.

And now the High Level Structure has a successor?

Luc: Yes, indeed, the Harmonized Structure has replaced the High Level Structure in May 2021. That means that from now on, the Harmonized Structure will be used for drafting new ISO management system standards and future revisions of existing ISO management system standards.

Interesting! What exactly is new in the Harmonized Structure?

Luc: You’ll be relieved to hear that the core elements of the High Level Structure remain the same for the Harmonized Structure. In essence, the change is mostly about a few clarifications and nuances that have been introduced. I’ll give you a quick overview per chapter:

  1. Scope – From now on, ISO management system standards should also specify the intended result of the implementation of specific management systems like ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and ISO 45001.
  2. Normative references – Nothing has been changed here.
  3. Terms and Definitions – The terms and definitions should be integrated into all ISO management standards.
  4. Context of the organization – §4.2 Understanding the needs and expectations of interested parties – You can now decide for yourself or consciously determine which requirements and expectations of interested parties you’ll establish in your management system. Of course, you still have to comply with the applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.
  5. Leadership – This chapter was also left unchanged.
  6. Planning – Planning of changes (§6.3) will become a common requirement for all ISO management system standards.
  7. Support – Documented information (§7.5) has been given a more neutral approach. The distinction between ‘retaining’ and ‘maintaining’ information disappears.
  8. Operation – Everything remains the same here.
  9. Performance evaluation – Nothing has changed in this chapter either.
  10. Improvement – The Harmonized Structure puts more emphasis on proactively initiating improvements rather than identifying possible improvements from a preventive nature.

Does this mean that we can also expect a revision of ISO 9001:2015?

Luc: No, and that is surprising, considering a new version of ISO 9001 has been published approximately every 7 years since ISO 9001:1987. That means the review process is normally initiated every 5 years. So why hasn’t the process been started yet? Well, a survey revealed that most users were in favor of leaving ISO 9001:2015 unchanged. After all, the structure of ISO 9001:2015 is well put together and not outdated. A revision simply wouldn’t provide added value.

I do have to add that it probably won’t take another five years to initiate the review process. Standing still is going backwards, after all! As of now, all eyes are on 2023 to start the process, which means we can probably expect the new ISO 9001 version in 2025 or 2026.

Can we expect any other ISO-related updates?

Luc: Well, we already know the ISO 14001:2015 won’t get a revision either this year. But we do have more exciting news about another standard: ISO/TC 283, the ISO technical committee responsible for the on-going development of ISO 45001, has recently launched the 2021 ISO 45001 user survey. The questionnaire gauges what sections work well and which ones still need improvements, like parts that might be too difficult or onerous, or not profound and thorough enough. Additionally, the committee wants to know where adjustments might be needed to reflect the changing world of work.

Why is this 2021 ISO 45001 user survey so significant?

Luc: It is significant for two reasons. Mainly, this is the first time this many organizations can provide feedback on ISO 45001, as the transition from OHSAS 18001 to ISO 45001 has finally been completed and many organizations have now fully implemented this standard. Secondly, ISO will start to consult national standards bodies regarding a possible revision of the standard. That means they need to know what areas of the standard would need to be improved during a revision. Do you want to contribute to this revision, or do you feel that ISO 45001 doesn’t need a revision yet? You can fill out the 2021 ISO 45001 user survey here:

Thank you for this update, Luc. Where can people find you if they need more information on the transition from High Level Structure to Harmonized Structure, and all things ISO management standards?

Luc: You can reach me directly at or through Don’t be shy and mail me with any questions. Glad to help!

Luc Marivoet

Who is Luc Marivoet?

Luc Marivoet is QHSE Manager at Pauwels Consulting. He has worked in quality management for over 30 years. As a Senior QHSE Consultant, he uses his experience on various projects for international Engineering and Life Sciences companies for the implementation, monitoring and follow-up of ISO 9001 (quality) and ISO 45001 (health & safety) management systems. Luc also teaches QHS Management Systems (ISO 9001 and ISO 45001).

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