Auditing Your Safety Audit
With so much resting on your audit, it’s critical that it's robust.
As the backbone of your safety program, audits are the primary tool to measure your company’s safety commitment and to examine whether your programs and strategies are meeting your goals. Feedback provided by audits can advance your safety management system (SMS) and minimize incidents.
But employers often conduct regular audits and still fail to see improvements in the company’s safety performance. If you have this issue, have you considered that your audit might be part of the problem?
While a great audit can produce invaluable results, the opposite is also true. An ineffective audit can create a stymied safety program, which falls short of the intended outcome.
How do you know if your auditing process is solid and effective? You can spot and correct common errors in audits by reviewing key areas.
Do an “audit of your safety audit,” and ask the following questions:
Is your audit only skimming the surface?
Audits must be concentrated on the entire safety process, including workers’ actions, physical hazards, and written programs and procedures. An audit is also a metric to gauge the effectiveness of training by observing worker behavior when performing various tasks. For example, you may have excellent written procedures in place, but are your workers following the required practices that match the training they’ve received?
A comprehensive approach is necessary for effective auditing. Audits must not skim the surface by only pointing out obvious hazards. They must dig deep to explore the reasons why behaviors are occurring. If an audit is narrowly focused on an area (such as building hazards) you’ll miss the opportunity to monitor the totality of the safety culture, which is the true measure of a great audit.
Do you have a 24/7 auditing process to match your operations?
Audits are often conducted on the first shift. This is often the busiest period for most companies, with many workers available and numerous potential hazards by virtue of the volume of operations. But if you’re only evaluating one shift, your audit provides a very limited perspective of the company's safety and health program. All shifts, as well as weekend operations, should be assessed through periodic auditing. You may be surprised to find that your safety culture truly lags on other shifts.
Likewise, hazards and unsafe conditions may differ significantly by shift. For example, second shift maintenance crews may not have training or adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for various types of electrical servicing they are conducting. You may not be aware of these hazards, because that type of maintenance isn’t performed during regular business hours. To catch issues like this, you must monitor the pulse of the company’s safety culture around the clock. Make sure your auditing process considers all times of operation and varied conditions.
Do you have expert input?
Audits are one of those areas where employers should consider bringing in external resources, such as an environmental safety consultant or an insurance risk assessor. These individuals are trained to identify where the safety system is operating effectively, and can help determine areas that need improvement, based on industry hazards and experience surveying similar companies. In-house audits can be incredibly time-consuming for employees to conduct, especially in busy operations with many known potential hazards.
Investing in an expert to perform an audit is usually worth every penny and can be a learning experience for your safety leaders as they follow along and observe.
If you choose to perform in-house audits, use a team of employees who are qualified to assess risks and can lend their personal areas of expertise to the process. You likely have a more than a few safety experts in your workforce.
Is there accountability?
You’ve just had an excellent and detailed company audit conducted, but what happens next can steer the success or failure of your safety program. When audits are performed, if there is not a linear process to follow up and ensure corrective measures are applied, the audit will not have served its purpose.
Remember, the goal of an audit is continuous improvement. Accountability is necessary for that to transpire. Therefore, you must have a method to prioritize and assign timely remedial actions built into the auditing system. Once completed, audits are not meant to gather dust on a shelf. Instead, they are an ongoing, actionable process that can sustain your safety program if used correctly.
You can fine-tune your audit by strategizing and applying these measures. Successful audits should evaluate overall compliance with regulations and gather information about a safety program’s consistency and effectiveness. Your audit will be a vital organizational tool if you also ensure that it is led by experienced individuals and incorporates accountability.