High Level Structure

Sara Gulo | October 29, 2019

Article by DQS Holding

Common structure for management systems

Since the publication of ISO 50001:2018, all of the major ISO standards are now based on the High-Level-Structure, HLS for short. First initiated in 2012, HLS has become the common structure of all revised or newly issued ISO management system standards, with many positive effects especially for integrated systems.

A common basic structure, however, is not the only advantage: along with it, there are standardized texts for the core requirements of a management system, as well as common terminology and basic definitions. All of this is designed to facilitate merging different management systems, as per Annex L (formerly called Annex SL) of the ISO/IEC Directives part 1. These Directives stipulate how ISO management system standards should be written, such as providing a unifying and agreed upon High Level Structure, common terms and identical core text and definitions.

So what are the advantages of the High Level Structure?

Applying several standards in one integrated management system, such as quality management and information security, has just gotten much easier. Especially where the basic requirement of all applicable standards has been fulfilled, that is: complete integration of the respective standard requirements in the current management system, and thereby in the general business processes of an organization.

“HLS: the development of a common basic structure is considered a milestone in the standardization of management systems.”

  • More efficiency: Fewer rules, less maintenance effort, fewer audit days, etc.
  • Competitive advantage: Shared management systems at all sites
  • More flexibility: New requirements can be added to the management system more easily
  • Less conflict: Reduced risk of incompatibilities and conflicts of objectives among different management systems
  • More transparency and greater acceptance

High Level Structure: overview

  • Scope
  • Normative references: both sections include standard-specific wording and define the objectives
  • Terms and definitions: reference to the generic terms displayed in Annex SL, as well as all specific terms for the standard
  • Context of the organization: understanding internal and external concerns, the needs and expectations of relevant interested parties, the management system and its scope
  • Leadership: responsibility and commitment of top management, policy, organizational roles, responsibilities and authorities
  • Planning: actions to address risks and opportunities, quality objectives and planning to achieve them
  • Support: required resources, competence, awareness, communication and documented information
  • Operation: operational planning and control
  • Performance evaluation: monitoring, measurement, analysis and evaluation, internal audit, management review
  • Improvement: nonconformity and corrective action, continual improvement

With this approach, ISO also intends to ensure the standardized use of core text, terms and definitions. More than that, though, the common basic requirements promote integration within an organization. This keeps the management system lean and efficient, without compromising its effectiveness and fulfillment of the needs and expectations of interested parties. Other key terms are process orientation and risk-based approach.

Neither the uniform structure nor the terminology present any disadvantages to an organization that employs an integrated management system with a common structure. Actually, the intention of HLS is to facilitate the integration of requirements from various standards in every corner of an organization – something that was not always easy to do until now. Meanwhile, there is no reason or requirement for structure or terminology to be applied to an organization‘s documented information. ISO 9001:2015 includes two informative Annexes that contain no requirements, but are highly recommended reading:

Annex A: Clarification of new structure, terminology and concepts

Annex B: Other International Standards on quality management and quality management systems

High Level Structure by Standard

High Level Structure of ISO 9001:2015

High Level Structure of ISO 14001:2015

High Level Structure of ISO 45001:2018

High Level Structure of ISO 50001:2018

High Level Structure of ISO 27001:2013