Special Topics in Safety Management

Get More from Your Safety and Health Audits

The idea of some audits, like one by IRS, might make your blood run cold. But when it comes to safety and health, an audit is a proactive tool that lets you know if what you’re doing is achieving the desired results.

Workplace audits help you monitor safety and health performance, as well as compliance with OSHA and other regulatory standards. Information gained from an audit can help you and your management:

  • Recognize the positive results of safety and health programs and policies
  • Identify and correct hazards before they cause accidents or illnesses
  • Feel confident that the company will fare well if OSHA conducts its own inspection
  • Reduce exposure to liability and litigation

Audits can also heighten awareness and provide a way for employees to get involved in a company’s safety and health program. Internal audits can improve communications between management and labor, with a safer, healthier workplace as the result.

To conduct a successful audit, you have to start with the basics.

1. Get Focused

The best audits are focused. One way to help identify audit priorities is to look at illness and injury information, including your OSHA injury and illness log, workers’ compensation data, and near-miss reports. Employee complaints can be another useful source of audit topics. From this information, you can develop audit checklists for auditors to use. Many safety professionals find that BLR’s Safety Audit Checklists is a great place to start building checklists for self-inspections covering all the key compliance issues.

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2. Select Auditors

Auditors are often chosen from the safety staff. Increasingly, however, the job of monitoring safety performance is being undertaken by employees, including safety committee members. It’s important that anyone conducting an audit recognize the importance of working through the entire audit checklist, covering every point thoroughly.

Auditors also benefit from training in communications skills. This can help them counter the arguments (and attitudes) of employees who may feel they are personally on the carpet during a safety and health audit. Many companies assign employees of one department to audit other departments, which builds a degree of objectivity into the process.

3. Determine Procedure and Scope

Audits can be announced or unannounced. Many companies use both. Unannounced audits give you a real picture of safety conditions and performance. Announced may not give as accurate a picture, since people will have time to clean up and be on their best behavior. On the other hand, announced audits have the advantage of including employees in the process, and that’s always a good thing.

Audits can also be general or specific. Commonly, a general audit helps to identify the hazard, while a more in-depth review is used to determine solutions, such as better equipment maintenance or additional training. It’s important that auditors keep their eyes open for trends or problems not covered by the audit checklist. For example, an auditor might identify formerly unrecognized hazards, intermittent conditions that were missed during a prior audit, or employee dissatisfaction with safety conditions of which management was unaware. These should be reported and responded to immediately.

4. Follow Up

Following up the findings of an audit is essential. If everything is in order, employees should be acknowledged for their good efforts. If problems are identified, make sure employees understand the risks and are included in the abatement process. This applies to both physical hazards and unsafe behavior.

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Worth the Effort

Self-inspections can be a valuable source of information, involvement, and awareness, say employers who use them. To make the most of safety and health audits, make sure that they are regular, frequent, and thorough. And as audit recommendations are implemented, be sure to look for tangible improvements in safety and health performance and communicate this positive information to employees.

Tomorrow, we’ll tell you how safety audits can be a great training tool, as well as how our Safety Audit Checklists can help you prepare for your next safety and health audit.

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